How Experience Can Prevent Five Classic Startup Marketing Mistakes


With so many of today’s tech giants founded by people in their 20s, it’s easy to think that tech is a game for the young. New ideas! Youthful energy! Willingness to take risks! Even naiveté can be a virtue: not knowing “the way it’s always been done” can be an advantage.

Unfortunately, youthful energy and innovative ideas are not enough — as proven by the long list of failed startups. Even the idea that the young have an advantage in startups is questionable, in the light of recent research. Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance, found that experience counts: the average age of successful founders is about 40, and people over 55 are about twice as likely to found a high-growth startup as people 20-34.

The essential ingredient is experience

There’s a clever saying about the difference between theory and practice: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.” A revolutionary new idea (even in the form of a business plan) is still basically a theory, and “practice” is just another way of saying “experience.” That’s one reason why mentors can be the secret weapons of successful startups.

Experienced entrepreneurs and founders understand what it means to “work on your business, not in your business.” This entails leading a company using collaboration and delegation, allowing founders to focus on their main objectives and play to their strengths, which is far better than trying to do everything themselves. Hiring experienced professionals who can be trusted to lead key initiatives or projects can mean the difference between success and failure. That also makes the process less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.

Diversity of experience

Each of us at RolloutSF has learned (sometimes the hard way) about the difference between theory and practice. In our years in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley tech industry, we have seen a great deal — both good and bad — and certainly more than we can say here. (But buy us a beer sometime, and we’ll tell you some amusing stories, without naming names and off the record, of course!)

These days there’s a lot of discussion about the value of diversity, particularly around experience and point of view. Bringing in experience is part of that: it helps prevent tunnel vision and avoids many classic startup marketing mistakes.

“We can do it ourselves” mistakes

  1. Branding your own company. When a startup mostly made of engineers tries to create a marketing message, it’s usually a disaster. You might end up with a logo that is too literal or has no connection to the company or its core values. You could develop a tagline that sounds good, but is largely ineffective. The brand may end up inconsistent, or rigidly consistent in places where subtle variation is required.
  2. Building your own website. Probably the worst mistake is when a website is built on a proprietary framework simply because someone in the company is familiar with it. This can result in a website that the marketing team can’t update without the help of engineering. Other common problems include not integrating SEO into the website from the start, and “too many cooks” syndrome leading to cluttered and confusing layouts.
  3. Writing all your own website and collateral. Technical people know their tech, and the tech may be great, but that’s not enough to drive sales or inquiries. Technical intelligence needs emotional and verbal intelligence: Your customers need to connect with your message, and they probably won’t if it’s written in “engineer speak.”

OK, you’ve decided to look outside the company for help. Even then, there are common pitfalls.

Outsourcing mistakes

  1. Poor coordination. Even when a startup recognizes that they should hire experienced outsiders, things can go wrong. If the tasks of website design, website construction, website content, SEO, marketing infrastructure, and lead generation are all handled by different teams, there are often miscommunications, conflicts, and other inefficiencies. One common problem: companies who build a website before taking SEO or lead generation into consideration and subsequently have to rebuild part of it later on.
  2. No metrics tied to online outreach. You built your platform and website, you blasted your messages to all the marketing channels, but what about analytics and responding to the activity you received? Do you know how many targeted prospects came to the site? Who went to what pages and how much time they spent there? Only by measuring your outbound and inbound marketing efforts can you get a sense of whether your web and marketing infrastructure is working for you, or know how to respond to those who have been actively engaged.

Introducing RolloutSF: the antidote to rookie startup mistakes

We’re an experienced team who can help your startup avoid such rookie mistakes (and many others), link you to an extensive professional network, and guide your company to reach your goals and investor expectations. Just drop us a line, and let’s talk.

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Jay Cornell

Jay Cornell handles content strategy, content creation, and works with James and Alex on web development, design, and marketing tasks. He enjoys the process of learning everything he can about a client, then using his writing, editing, design, and UI/UX experience to condense and arrange everything into a form that’s friendly and persuasive to users (and search engines). bio

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