You asked for it Arnold and 84 others (so far). So I'm gonna talk about marketing.

I believe 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 (coke, zynga, bud, viagra).

A very experienced and successful entrepreneur came into our office a week ago to pitch his latest company. At the end of his pitch he showed us some numbers. Normally for a raw startup we see almost all product and engineering expenses (headcount). But his plan had a monthly budget for customer acquisition. After he left, we talked about his plan and my partners focused on the customer acquisition number. It bugged us. It felt wrong.

So a few days later, I called him. We talked about what we liked about his plan and pitch and what we didn't like. I brought up the customer acquisition line item at one point in that call. He said "every company needs a marketing budget." It seemed like a strong reply but in truth not one of our top performing companies had a marketing budget in their initial business plan.

Zynga has spent millions on customer acquisition and continues to do so. But in the beginning, when Zynga was three or four people and they launched Texas Hold'em on the brand new Facebook Platform, they didn't spend any marketing dollars. That was the beauty of that time and that plan. The Facebook Platform was free distribution. Zynga rode that free distribution to millions of users, profits, and additional games. Only then did they start marketing.

In my talk at Harvard Business School, I said "Early in a startup, product decisions should be hunch driven. Later on, product decisions should be data driven". I've seen that line tweeted a thousand times since then. Clearly people like that rule. Here's another.

Early in a startup you need to acquire your customers for free. Later on, you can spend on customer acquisition.

So if you need to acquire customers for free early in a startup, how do you do that? There is no one right answer, it depends a lot on who your customer is and how hard the sell will be (consumer/enterprise and free/paid). I'm not an expert on enteprise focused SAAS businesses. I am not going to address that part of the market here.

For the consumer/free part of the web, there are some obvious things you will want to do:

1) Twitter – so many entrepreneurs have asked me "how did you start a company before Twitter?" Twitter is that free distribution that Zynga got on the Facebook Platform. 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 hoooks – 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. The product should allow people to express themselves in it. Profiles, personalization, etc will allow the users to feel ownership of the product and tell others about it. Foursquare's adoption of a game dynamic when it launched is a particularly clever implementation of a social hook. Games are the most social of all things on the web.

3) Find entry points – MySpace launched in the holywood crowd that were friends of Tom and Chris. Twitter launched in the SF tech community that were friends of Ev and Biz and Jack. Tumblr launched in the "roll your own blog" avant garde community that David was part of. Quora launched in the Facebook alumni community. Facebook launched on Ivy League campuses. You get the idea. 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. Twitter and Foursquare are the two most talked about examples. I worry that SXSW has become so big and so many companies are planning to breakout there now, that it can't happen anymore. We will see. But 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. You can and may want to hire a PR firm to supplement your efforts, but that's a different story. The best companies know how to become the story and work it. Being in NYC helps a lot. Foursquare is a great example of this. You can laugh at Dennis and Naveen doing fashion shoots but think about how many new users they got for doing that. It was a stunt like any other stunt they've done. And they have done hundreds of them. The media eats it up as they always need something to write about. Twitter is another example of a company that owned its PR. Biz is a master. At the same time Biz and Jack were iterating on the product, Biz was thinking about the brand, the story, the bird, the logo, the meaning of Twitter in the world. And he got out there and started telling the story. He is an evangelist and he did it so well. Twitter would not be Twitter without that effort. If you don't have a Biz or Dennis on the founding team, find someone who can do this for you. But I will say that the best PR centric startups have the "media DNA" in the founding team.

6) Search – It is not first on the list for a reason. I don't think search driven businesses are interesting. Live by SEO, die by SEO. 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. It is for my name (if you take out dups). Flickr did this very well. So does LinkedIn and Crunchbase. 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. You can break your SEO with product changes and be careful not to do that.

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. Soundcloud is another great example. There are a ton of apps that people use to create music and other audio experiences that have "soundcoud inside." Each and every one of those apps is a distribution channel for soundcloud. They are pulling Soundcloud into the market. So build your product as platform from day one. And once you get traction on your product, do things that will cause it to become a platform, Foursquare is doing this well. They first got millions of users and now they are developing a vibrant ecosystem of third party developers. They did a hackday this past weekend that was very successful.

8) Build a great product – I'll end with a return to where I started. 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.

So that's what I got on marketing Arnold. What do you think?


Comments (Archived):

  1. Eradke

    “don’t be a google bitch”. I love it. I am however worried about the increasing platform risk that occurs with “free marketing”.

    1. fredwilson

      yes, platform risk is an issuebe a platform, don’t run on someone else’s platform

      1. Volnado

        this is a great line I am going to use it as part of my pitch to bands to make their websites

        1. CJ

          That’s the future of the music business IMHO

          1. Volnado

            As we say in New Orleans… Yea You Right

  2. ErikSchwartz

    How is this different for companies without a consumer focus (if it is)? The Twilios and the MongoDBs of the world. If your product is an API are you really at the mercy of the first few consumer applications built on the API?Do you need to build the first hit consumer application yourself?

    1. CliffElam

      We worry about that a LOT, but our solution was to look beyond obvious third party apps and see if there was something we could do that was direct-to-consumer (ex: Outlook plugin) or direct-to-ecosystem (SalesForce). We decided “both” was the right answer.-XC

    2. awaldstein

      B2B has its own unique issues, at least in my experience.I’ve had good success when the solution verticalized as most B2B solutions do. Had more issues when I build a Voip based phone solution and when we hit the wall with PPC and SEO, cost of acquisition in a completely horizontal market became a challenge.

    3. Danielle Morrill

      I need to write an in depth post about how we did Twilio’s marketing with a minimal budget for the first year

      1. ErikSchwartz

        Please do. I’d love to read that.

      2. awaldstein

        Absolutely write this!

    4. fredwilson

      mongo and twilio did notthey are not consumer facing servicesthey are very interesting companies to me and i need to spend more timetalking about them

  3. Riaz Kanani

    I *think* I agree with you – the reason I only think I do is because your definition of marketing is not clear.WOM/Social/PR/Events/SEO are all marketing items which generate customers and demand, the difference between these and other marketing items is that they can now be implemented more cheaply (even free, albeit time is an expensive commodity for startups) and at greater scale than ever before. As you say, for that to happen, you need to have a great product (or even service).This is another cost saving benefit for startups vs the old “Web 1.0” world.

  4. mrcai

    “I believe that marketing is what you do when your product or service sucks”That’s being copy and pasted straight to our marketing department

    1. M@

      Should that be copy and pasted straight to the development team?

    2. anne weiler

      Hopefully they will leave your company then since you obviously have no respect for them. Agree with the many posters that what Fred has described is marketing.

      1. mrcai

        First, I would hope they could justify their existence and dispute the argumentSecondly, it was a bit of humor on my behalf

        1. anne weiler

          sorry—moved continents in-between posting. the issue in tech companies is that everyone thinks they can do marketing so the marketing dept. is often maligned. our skins are only so thick.

      2. Jon Winebrenner

        Similar to the lack of respect that most Marketing departments show for the teams that actually create the product they’re Marketing?My take is that Fred seems to be taking the stance that marketing’s valuation is skewed. Those in marketing tend to place a much higher value on their work than the rest of the Team/Group. Early on in the process Marketing holds little value (speaking from the perspective of how one places valuation on a company). Another commenter made the statement that Marketing holds little value until you know what your customer is worth to you.While mrcai was tongue in cheek with his statement, it seems as though it gets to the core of what Fred has said that struck a nerve here.

      3. mrcai

        Firstly, I’d hope they could justify their existence.Secondly, it was humour

  5. Steven Kane

    I agree with your post — startups must focus on the lowest cost possible initial consumer acquisition! — but with a caveat:it all depends on how you define “marketing” or “customer acquisition”did zynga spend absolutely zero dollars on anything except payroll and basic rent/overhead?the answer, i think, is a “no”. zynga pretty clearly did spent money on all sorts of other items, some of which, i humbly submit, can and should be considered “consumer acquisition”for example — not one person from zynga attended even one conference? isn’t conference travel and attendance “marketing”?and most clearly — zynga initial games/apps failed. as you write, initially they lived through the moment of realizing their “product or service sucks.” and what did they then do? they *acquired* the poker game app from a small developer that had proved it had traction etcand they were able to do that because they were resourceful and experienced and smart — they set aside some initial funding dollars for stuff other than payroll and simple rent and overheads.bottom line — for startups, i fear dogma. very early stage startups have to have extreme openmindedness and flexibility… no? the ability to respond to contingencies they did not plan for. and not worship hard and fast and rigid rules or commandments, no?

    1. johnmccarthy

      “for startups, i fear dogma” Great reminder that there is no one way to build a great company and that for every “rule” there is an exception that can make the difference between copy-cat failure and breakthrough success.

      1. ablanaru

        Right on! Even though Fred hit some very good points and I agree with most of them, I always take the “do this/don’t do that” speech for startups with a grain of salt. After all, the guys who have made it big did it by breaking commonly accepted rules and creating their own way.

        1. This post smells funny

          Ablanaru … me thinkest Fred is tounge-in-cheek. He knows what marketing is. This is paltry attempt to gain traction on his blog and get people to think about his investment in Twitter as a vehicle for marketing. Move along here … just another VC trying to “make” his investment shine.

      2. JLM

        Damn good point! Well played!

    2. fredwilson

      I fear dogma too. I hope I’m not spreading dogma

  6. Rishad Tobaccowala

    This approach will soon be utilized by every major brand as the Peoples Network fueled by enabling technologies places a premium on superior product and service. As we often advise clients it you want “buzz” about your product build a better product, give a great deal, deliver amazing service. You want people talking about your product not your “marketing:

  7. Chip Griffin

    There’s a lot of great stuff in this post, but much of what you describe is actually marketing. It seems what you’re really arguing is that whatever marketing is done should be done by the founding team and early hires. But that’s not “free” — there is a cost to spending time on that stuff.I’m not arguing that you need to pay a full-time marketing person or that a startup should spend money on advertising and things like that, but it is important to acknowledge that some marketing is necessary. If you build a great product and don’t tell anyone about it, you will fail. As soon as you tell one person about it, you are effectively marketing — even if it’s more informal than what that entrepreneur suggested to you in his pitch.

    1. awaldstein

      By definition you can’t hire someone to tell you who you are.The best companies have that vision which includes building a market early on.Marketing is not only the tactics to execute, its the DNA to build the right product as well.

      1. J.R. Sedivy

        True. However the founders should have the vision to commit to some sort of marketing effort. If they don’t have the skills, partner with someone who does and bring this person into the inner fold.Excellent statement – “Marketing is not only the tactics to execute, its the DNA to build the right product.” – Functionality alone does not make a great product, emotion is a critical element, emotion drives the market, which marketing taps into and channels into the product.

        1. awaldstein

          We are of like mind on this John.Marketing is all about passion for connecting with a market. Analytics are just breadcrumbs that help you measure the progress of that connection process.

          1. J.R. Sedivy

            Great analogy!

        2. Roland Haddad

          Playing on emotions is proving a good way to sell (although it sounds a bit unethical to say that). But look at the best companies slogans: Facebook: “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” Twitter:The best way to discover what’s new in your world. Microsot “Your Potential. Our Passion”Even in the functionalities, and I’m taking facebook as an example: The famous Like button and the red light notifications are examples of how facebook taps on the emotions of its users. There is always a hidden joy in everyone who gets his comments liked. This drives him back to use the product again. I think Myspace and other social networks faded away because they failed to turn emotions into interactions.

          1. J.R. Sedivy

            I had this same conflict at one point. Personally I believe that the emotional aspect is unethical if it is purposefully insincere or inauthentic.A sincere, authentic message (or ‘story’ to borrow from Seth Godin) crafted towards the consumer is ethical and what the consumer wants. Of course the story should be true and in alignment with the promise and functionality that your product will deliver to the market and ultimately to the end user.

      2. reece

        Excellent comment here.I literally just queued up a post about this last night.Marketing is the voice of the company – there are strategic ways to use that voice, but it’s not something you can hire/build/fake.

      3. sling

        yeah, but alot of people will do it for free (journalists, analysts), and some will pay you for the oppertunity to tell you what youy company is.. ! (angels, vc,…)

      4. Many Hats Marketing

        The best companies know who they are and know who their products are for, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to talk about it and how to capture potential customers so that the customer will listen. It also doesn’t mean that they know how to take user input and translate it into product features.

        1. awaldstein

          Well said.My point is that companies need to know themselves and feel passionate about their vision. I often help companies look at data to understand who their customers think they are, but that’s still not the same. Helpful yes, the complete answer, no.I’m a believer in hiring expertise for projects and execution as there are certainly experts in a host of important areas. But I do need to state that as social become more and more integrated into a companies core, it becomes harder to move execution to outside teams. Design yes, execution in the voice of the company, not really. Companies and brands need to speak in their own voice.

      5. markslater

        i totally agree with the first statement – if you are in that situation then you are in trouble.For me – at the stage we are at – we need people who chug the koolaid.

    2. J.R. Sedivy

      Nicely said.Thus the great innovator whose product never leaves their garage or makes it to market.I agree with Fred that the founding team should have a product focus, however I think that marketing should have a line item, even if the cost is measured in man-hours. If the founders can’t afford marketing up-front bring on a partner to perform the marketing. Furthermore, marketing input is a critical component of product development.

    3. sling

      I agree with Chip. It is a good argument that all this marketing be done internally-these fundimental decisions and early execution should be made by the team rather than a hired outside firm. Of course people may have to be hired (salary budget rather than marketing budget?), officw space/equipment allocated, travel and entertaiment budget, booth and show attndance costs, etc.You may not save alot of money going internal marketing early on, but you have much better knowledge and control to get desire effect.

    4. fredwilson

      That first line of your comment is right on and its where I failed on thispost

    5. fredwilson

      yuptotally agree that what i described is marketing

  8. LIAD

    Proposed 9 & 109) Unbridled enthusiasm for your product and the problem you’re solving – Passion is infectious and draws in advocates like a magnet. Be a vocal cheerleader. Remember, every day is game day.10) Compelling vision – Paint a bright vivid picture of the future. Help your customers buy-in emotionally to what your doing. Share your mission and goals liberally. Make them feel part of something momentous.

    1. reece

      +1000 for #9The most exciting thing about being able to share your vision is seeing who comes along for the ride – ‘drawing in advocates like a magnet.’In building our new product, we now have 5-6 people who are all volunteering their time to work on it because they 1. want the product themselves 2. feel the energy of the team and 3. agree with the ultimate vision.

  9. gzino

    User experience deserve separate call out? Subset of “great product” but, especially at launch and w/ today’s noise, UX defines your product and whether users will spread it and return to it.

    1. fredwilson


  10. Seth Godin

    Ouch!Marketing ≠ Advertising.If you redo the post with Advertising throughout, I won’t argue much.Marketing is the name we use to describe the promises a company makes, the story it tells, the authentic way it delivers on that promise.This blog is an example. You’re an example. The blog is a medium for you to tell the USV and the Fred Wilson story. And you live it every day. That’s marketing.I’m done now. Thanks for letting me clear that up.

    1. jeffsilbert

      Fred: agree with Seth, your post is about advertising not marketing which is a subset of marketing (that you point out should be 0 in a startup). The companies you mention have great marketing done with $0 in advertising. Perhaps consider amending your post to make that distinction.

      1. Donna Brewington White




        1. Matt A. Myers

          Robot dinosaur to the rescue

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Are you FAKE GRIMLOCK Matthew? Come on you can tell me. I promise I won’t tell.

          2. Matt A. Myers

            …. not unless I’ve been having conversations with myself on Twitter … but that’s a possibility too if I’m carrying on a persona of a robot dinosaur, isn’t it?….

    2. Dan Lewis

      This was my immediate reaction too. (And I typed that sentence before I realized who wrote the comment I’m replying to, so my next sentence — “You should read Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing again” — probably is redundant!)You (Fred) are a big value-add to an entrepreneur because you have this blog. 100k+ Twitter followers, a reputation of being ahead of the curve, etc. You’ve effectively convinced the marketplace (aka marketed yourself) that you’re “smart money” in consumer internet fundraising endeavors. That’s a lot more important than building social hooks in your platform.

    3. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      I was sure that was coming.

    4. awaldstein

      I tried to say the same thing.You did it better Seth.

      1. dissertation

        the same about me. completely agree and that was exactly what i wanted to say

    5. Mark Essel

      Marketing includes market research as well. Imagine pitching blindfolded after being spun around a hundred times. That’s what building a startup without marketing is.Totally agree that it should be owned by the startup, although a good deal of expert advice doesn’t hurt.It’s not immediately obvious to me that marketing is only the style and story of a company. Now marketing has become an overloaded word, only useful in context (market research).

      1. awaldstein

        Hey Mark…my take is that the closer this DNA is to the heart of the startup and part of the team the better the results.The more marketing is thought of as a hired gun and circumstantial, the poorer the usual outcome. Not always but often.

        1. Peter Beddows


    6. Scott Paley

      Yes, what Seth said.Looking at your list, most of these are *exactly* about marketing.1) Get the word out on Twitter – marketing2) Encourage social sharing – marketing3) Find entry point – marketing4) Launch at live events – marketing5) PR – marketing6) Search – marketing7) Developers – *maybe* marketing (maybe not)8) Great product – marketing

      1. awaldstein

        Marketing is the connection between company and market. Tactics are breadcrumbs to pave the road.

        1. Scott Paley

          I don’t disagree at all, but was just pointing out that Fred was basically saying, “Marketing is for losers. Instead, try the following – A, B, C…”Except that A, B, and C were all marketing tactics!That said, we’re getting hung up on semantics. Clearly Fred is referring to advertising, which many people think of as “marketing.”Or, Fred, am I not characterizing what you’re saying correctly?As Seth said (paraphrasing) – change “marketing” to “advertising” and the ideas expressed in the post make a lot more sense.

          1. fredwilson

            i could have done better by sending my post to seth to edit before posting

          2. DGentry

            Paul Graham sends posts out for editing… every month or two (or six).Posting daily, I suspect you have to shoot from the hip and occasionally get hit by shrapnel.

          3. Scott Paley

            Heh. Well, perhaps.But, semantics aside, the key point stands. Having a budget item for advertising rarely makes sense for a startup. There are much more budget-conscious ways for a startup to grow, as long as it has a strong, compelling product to sell.

          4. vruz

            And right this very moment, I’m seeing GroupOn’s google ads plastered all over the web…

          5. Robert Holtz

            Fred, in all candor and in kind respect, that was the central issue that activated reactions like mine… You lopped advertising and marketing into one and the same thing in your article.If you take out the word “marketing” and replace it with “advertising,” I actually agree with every single word of your post and it is my impression so would Seth.Had Seth given your post an editorial pass, he would have likely encouraged you to use your visibility as a forum to educate entrepreneurs about that very distinction. Your bottom line statement would be more like, “Startups: Market yes. Advertise no.”My assertion is that a startup today can not view their marketing message as an afterthought to be explored somewhere down the line when they “grow up” or get around to it. Marketing should be part of the essential mission from day one. Advertising, on the other hand, especially the old school disruptive “interruption” kind, would absolutely be a sign that a potential candidate has the wrong priorities and maybe even the wrong ideas.When you separate “marketing” from “advertising,” it not only “automagically” repairs your post but it instantly turns me around from being an opponent to your advice on this subject matter to an absolute advocate of it.I don’t want to put words in Seth’s mouth but it is my observation that his first comment on your post was asserting exactly the same thing.

          6. fredwilson

            i’m curious what you think of my follow up post on this topic…

          7. Stacie Andrews

            Yes Fred, but then you wouldn’t have had hundreds of comments. I wonder how many lurkers you got to interact with you by writing a post so easy to comment on?

        2. reece

          You’re on fire in the comment stream today.

          1. awaldstein

            This is my ‘sport’. Been waiting for the starting bell to jump in the race ;)-Disqus won’t let me respond to Kevin below.So to KevinHey…I’m running on all cylinders in most every other place. Been dropping pings to get this topic on AVC though for awhile.

          2. falicon

            In this sport if you wait for the starting bell…you’ll never win the race! =D

          3. falicon

            Awesome stuff…it won’t let you respond to my comment because I’ve hacked Disqus so that I *always* get the last word….ok not really…but it would be cool if I did right?BTW – I am a big fan of your stuff…just couldn’t pass up on the opp. to jump in with a comment =D

          4. awaldstein


          5. reece

            haha… i love it.would be great to connect with you in person sometime to get some input onour new stuff. can i buy you a coffee/tea/beer sometime?check out my post today when you get a chance for a headstart…

        3. JLM

          Very interesting comment. One of the greatest confusions in business is the difference between strategy and tactics.

          1. awaldstein

            So true…I think of it mostly in terms of marketing and sales. I’ve been wanting to write a post entitled “The Best Strategy is Creative Execution’ that touches on this very idea.

          2. Alysonrblair

            I’d like to read that when/if you do.

          3. William Mougayar

            Two of the greatest reads Art of War by Tzu and On War by Clausewitz. I bet you’ve got these memorized JLM. My 2 classics favs on marketing are Marketing Warfare (i have it memorized) and the Positioning: the battle for your mind.

          4. JLM

            Sun Tzu was pretty easy reading but Clausewitz is like crawling through broken glass. Every time you read them, you see and learn something different.Once upon a time, I had an opportunity to apply a bit of Sun Tzu — exploit the advantage — and it was kind of gratifying to actually do it. Of course, I only had about 45 men but it was the real deal nonetheless.I will have to get your recommendations and read them.I have just concluded about 30 years of studying WWII (Europe) — as my Mom (who was a soldier in WWII and did, in fact, wear combat boots) used to say — “I know how it turns out”.I have sworn off reading anything about contemporary politics which I used to devour because it just pisses me off so much. I did read Rumsfeld’s memoir and it was very interesting.So I have room to read.

    7. Jen Grogono

      Agree w Seth! Too often little m marketing (i.e. The promotional ‘P’ of the 4 P’s) is confused with big M Marketing (everything else…Product, Price, Place…). Can’t run a business without crafty consideration of the latter…

      1. awaldstein

        Couldn’t agree more.Marketing is not all data and ROI; Marketing is about a value chain and how to build it.

    8. toddgeist

      Seth,I think Fred’s post is just advising people to not do things that would fail your test of what *Marketing* is.How can you make promises and tell an authentic story until you have actually built something that you can believe in?

    9. Donna Brewington White

      This was a good time for you to show up.

    10. Robert Holtz

      Thank you Seth. Many people intermingle the two (marketing and advertising) and they are not one and the same things.And I’m sure you’ll agree (because I’m familiar with your work and I wish the esteemed Mr. Wilson was) that THE most authentic way for the brand message to be imbued in the product is if that is considered and designed and evolved by the company right along with every other aspect of the product… from a line of code to a line of the story that accompanies it… from day one and ever after.

      1. fredwilson

        pleasei invested in seth’s first internet company back in 1996. i worked with him for several years before he wrote Permission Marketing. I’ve read every one of his booksi’m just a teeny bit familiar with his work

        1. kidmercury

          damn boss you put robert holtz in his place….brutal

        2. Robert Holtz

          That being the case and your being so enlightened, why then does your post oppose Seth’s insights in almost every possible way?

          1. vruz

            because marketing is not dogma, it’s something people have created and it’s subject to discussion by people.

          2. Robert Holtz

            @vruz: That statement is so permissive in its construct it can be said of almost anything at all. One can trade out the word “marketing” for just about any other word under the sun and the statement stands.That said, it doesn’t really address Fred’s original assertion, Seth’s reaction to Fred’s assertion, or my support of Seth’s reaction and call for Fred to reconcile his philosophy against both; all of which is the charge and focal point of my posts.Thanks for your contribution but, respectfully, the question was posed to Fred.

          3. fredwilson

            that’s not how it works here Robert. everyone talks to everyone in the AVCcomments. if you want to talk to me one on one, email me

          4. vruz

            Well it’s a community and an open forum.Thanks for your reply, but respectfully, if you don’t wish to engagewith the public, just email him personally.

          5. fredwilson

            i don’t think it does. he and i have been discussing it via email.

          6. Robert Holtz

            Fair enough. I would be very grateful if you let me know how it turns out. Seth has my private email address. Kind regards and thanks.

    11. Sorry post smells funny

      I also think that marketing IS being done when a VC backed company uses its VC contacts to get PR easier from mainstream media.

      1. fredwilson

        or when i promote one of our companies on this blog

    12. Kate O'Neill

      Of course, Seth is spot on about the distinction between marketing and advertising (or promotions in general) and that the concepts are conflated in this post.Should every startup have marketing? Of course. Marketing is essential for any business, and probably happens at an intuitive level for many non-marketer founders.Should every startup have a distinct marketing budget? For the most part, I think yes, although to Fred’s main point, it probably doesn’t have to be sizable. Making hunch-based product decisions and, by extension, marketing decisions in the early days is probably fine in a good many cases, but in other cases can end up costing far more than needed and can slow the company’s ability to reach its target audiences.If you’re starting a consumer-oriented product and you’re a techie with zero marketing background, it probably wouldn’t hurt to find a forward-thinking marketing consultant or agency to spend an hour or two every few weeks or months helping you think about product, audience, website, and brand considerations. Even a few hundred dollars each month could go a long way toward clarity of purpose where marketing efforts are concerned. We have a good many startup clients for whom we serve this type of advisory role. I’d hope that this kind of relationship and input is regarded by our clients’ investors as an asset, not a drag.

      1. fredwilson

        i don’t love the agency client model in startupsi’ve not seen it work welli want to see the team have the competency, not outsource it

        1. Kate O'Neill

          I can appreciate that preference from your perspective, and I’ll concede that it’s challenging to get the relationship just right. But if the agency’s goals include leaving the client more sophisticated than how we met them and they’re consequently more prepared to manage their marketing on their own, I can’t see how that could be construed as a bad investment.

          1. fredwilson

            most agencies goals are to get paid a lot of money from a lot of clientsthey take on too many clients in service of that goalthe little understaffed startup doesn’t have the ability to be the greasy wheel that gets the oiland they get fuckedi have seen this movie so many times and it is my anger at the marketing profession over that which has spilled out into this postnot a good thing i suspect, but it is what it is

          2. sigmaalgebra

            Thanks. I needed that. One large collection of non-obvious chuckholes in the road now avoided.

          3. PhilipSugar


          4. mike gilfillan

            So true. This is the kind of advice I was hoping to get from my VCs, but didn’t.And because I learn from concrete examples, I don’t mind sharing mine in this awesome forum:Our VC (ICGE) in ’99/00 insisted we hire their top tier PR firm to help us ramp up our brand and exposure before working on our S-1. At the time same VC also brought in Sergio Zyman to our board of advisers, so we’re talking big names.For $40,000 a month and we get a bunch of recent college grads who know nothing, a bunch of worthless training for our staff and a bunch of call reports: generates little if any results.6 months later we terminate our agreement while their account rep claims they are “firing” us because we don’t want to pay upwards of $60,000 a month (we had become too small a fish) and because we had begun to dispute the “overages” on past bills. Sergio tries to patch things up, but no movement from PR Firm.Along comes the crash and we are looking at $120,000 of PR firm invoices for work/hours they can’t substantiate (even after giving them 3 months to get the details together). To make matters worse, we get another invoice for $40,000 for “monthly service” three months AFTER both parties terminated agreement in writing,So when they really start threatening legal action to collect the $120,000 AND the add’l $40,000 invoice, I decide to have my attorney threaten to counter sue for Interstate Mail Fraud and violating the RICO Act.This finally knocks some sense into their heads and they agree to settle for somewhere around $50,000.Lesson learned: be careful of the promises made and the contracts signed and don’t be afraid to fight back. Next time I will hire my own in-house PR person/team.

          5. Mike Sweeney

            That’s the problem. Agencies – especially larger agencies – don’t belong anywhere near startups.There are other forms of outsourced marketing that don’t fall in the “agency” category. How about bringing in a firm that actually provides marketing leadership/strategy in addition to services? 90% of agencies are not structured to do that.

          6. Doublelchicago

            Coincidentally, we’re launching a business to address this exact problem–a resource for high-potential businesses to access the very best marketing skills (the kind only the very largest companies can ever touch within the consolidated agency conglomerates). The business is targeted at PE-backed (including VC) businesses who tend to be sophisticated owners capable of distinguishing great from mediocre.The best people are rarely contained within the Big Four conglomerates (WPP, Publicis, Omnicom, and Interpublic); rather, they are freelancers looking avoid the bureaucratic hell of those conglomerates to work with other smart people on cool businesses. If you’re Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and the like, you’re well served. If not, good luck to you. Is there any better evidence of this than Groupon’s Super Bowl commercial? Crispin Porter has large clients like Microsoft to tend to. If you’re a huge fixed cost agency, you have no choice but to focus on the largest billable clients.

          7. Zachary Adam Cohen

            Fred, you are so right, as a boutique guy here in NYC, this is something I continually struggle with, how do I grow without giving up the personalized care and bespoke-quality of strategy, training and implementation that I offer my clients. The answer is you can’t grow continually and have it be sustainable.So the other option is to just be happy with what you have, learn more, attract the clients you want and that make you happy, and try to make the money that will please you but that may never make me a wealthy individual.Or, as I am now finding out, as someone who has spent a few years servicing and marketing the ideas and products of other people and brands, every once in awhile I might have an idea of my own that I now have the ability to ideate, plan for, design, develop and launch.Who knows, maybe one of those side projects will be my way out of the upper middle class. poor me!Zac

      2. awaldstein

        What often happens is that early stage companies at pre or at launch hire a PR firm. More and more marketing outreach and strategy gets laid on the agency, fees rise, things go sour and you start again.Not dissing agencies or consultants (I am one!) but better to have the voice of the company be part of the company. Trusted advisors to help chart growth and market strategies for certain as everyone needs an outside point of view, but its best to have the touch point with the market be the team, when possible.There are always exceptions but I think this is the rule.

    13. Sorry post smells funny

      Seth, regarding your comments. I also think it funny that Twitter was the first thing mentioned. Isn’t that a USV funded investment?…Nice way to market an investment company and promote its usage. Wow! Just wow!

      1. John Rorick

        I do think a few people had heard about Twitter before Fred used this blog post as a shameless, sneaky plug…just a few 😉

        1. This post smells funny

          Yes a “few” have heard of it but unfortunately its not really generating much revenue. So, yeah marketing the company for a flip on a higher rev multiple is a strategy…seen it before…don’t know if its happening here…just saying. Stand by comment.

          1. fredwilson

            how much is “not much”?i think you’d be surprised how much revenue Twitter is generating

      2. fredwilson

        yup, this was just a totally drummed up post to promote twitterglad you figured that out and called me out on it

        1. falicon

          Ha! Nice…you did such a good job by laying the ground work a day ago asking what to write about…knowing the community would pick marketing and thereby give you a chance to push Twitter (because we all know how much marketing help Twitter needs right now from your followers)…great chess move! =D

          1. This post smells funny

            Using the crowd’s suggestions does not mean one cannot still find ways to push one’s agenda. Stand by comment.Agree with Mr. Wilson’s own assessment of his post.It was a bad post … and by bad I mean if there was not some hidden action he wanted to create he could have just as easily used the crowd’s suggestion of Marketing as a topic and posted “We have hired marketing folks … they have tended not to work for our investment companies.” Would not have been hard to do.

          2. David Semeria

            You smell funny. Who are you?

        2. Scott Paley

          Wow. Talk about a long-view strategy. I’m impressed!

    14. howardlindzon

      not bad

    15. Michael Weiksner

      So, startups should not have advertising budgets — great point.Of course, it requires effort to tell your story, as you suggest. It requires resources to build social hooks, to invest time to attend live events and to participate in social media, to cultivate entry points, etc., as Fred recommends. So I wonder where you and Fred think these resources should come from.Do these activities within a startup deserve a line-item, and should that item be called “marketing”?

      1. Alysonrblair

        Hahaha! Yep, I think that’s what he’s saying.

    16. vruz

      Some other guys think that marketing is doing the talk, and branding is doing the walk.Marketing: Telling your story, sharing the vision, living your own truth all along the lifecycle of whatever you want to share with the world.Branding: actually delivering on the promise, which reinforces the belief in your proposition and creates expectations about the brand in the future.There’s a blurry line there somewhere along the way between marketing and branding.I think it’s great that the modern conception of marketing is much more encompassing than it used to be, not relegated to mere promotion.In short:Fred telling the Fred story is marketing.Fred being a trustworthy brand, delivering on the promise: that’s branding.

      1. Guest

        a brand is a promise, not a delivery.

        1. vruz

          I think that’s an outdated concept.No amount of promising is enough to create a brand, a brand is what others expect to get from you.How you get them to trust you? Delivering.

        2. vruz

          No amount of promising is enough to create a brand, a brand is whatothers expect to get from you.How you get them to trust you? Delivering.

    17. Peter Beddows

      Exactly: Well said; perfect observation.

    18. Sebastian Wain

      I had a bad feeling at the start, but I understand (may be incorrectly) that Fred referred to the Marketing as seen in big corporations or sometimes like killing a fly with a missile: instead of a marketing department you need to think hard yourself first.But, all what Fred told about entry points, social hooks, etc is part of the Marketing activities, in a formal way or not.

    19. Youssef Rahoui

      Definitely. Fred your great blog, your Facebook fans, your Twitter followers are all the fruits of marketing, namely content marketing. A very smart – useful, genuine, viral – way to tell your story.

    20. Damien

      Hi Seth,I thought the definition of a *brand* was the promise a company makes, the story it tells and the authentic way it delivers on promise.Damien

    21. kidmercury

      119 likes at the time of this writing for seth’s comment. the most popular comment in fredland history — BY FAR. the previous record was held by andy swan, coming in with 39 likes.special thanks to erick schonfeld at techcrunch and others for helping this story go viral and bringing another day to remember for fredland patriots and historians.

      1. RichardF

        interesting that you diss Arnold’s 85 likes on the post that started this ;)Seth is certainly more popular this time than his last outing to Fredland

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Seth redeemed himself. At least among this crowd.

          1. RichardF

            yep and the crowd were once again entertained in the arena

        2. fredwilson

          you are in the top five now richard, with your comment on bloggers block

          1. RichardF

            hey that’s true – Kid has dissed me too !

        3. kidmercury

          oh snap looks like i embroiled myself in a beef! 🙂

      2. fredwilson

        seth jumps to to the top of the most liked list with that onebut the “bloggers block” comment thread and my request to “like” resulted in the next four on the leader boardarnold cliff elammark sustermike from rent savvyrichard fi should probably keep encouraging liking, it seems to work well 🙂

    22. Francis Pedraza

      Such a great comment.

    23. fredwilson

      The flaw in the post is I dissed marketing and then talked about 8 ways todo it.I believe in marketing and its powers some of which you point out SethBut I also believe that much of what people spend money on in an attempt todo marketing is wasted

      1. RichardF

        it was very well played Fred

      2. Michael Diamant

        Ah but don’t blame and “diss” “marketing” as a whole category – if you want to put blame out there it’s the people who came up with a bad plan and spent like drunken sailors on it. Kind of like – guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Marketing does’t cause people to overspend, poor managers do it to themselves.There’s also a whole world of vendors out there who have built businesses bilking freshly funded VC backed companies for six figure marketing programs, and i’m sure that’s partly why you just have negative feelings for the whole practice.

        1. awaldstein

          If anything, this post and the over 300 comments shows the engagement around the topic.Push aside the semantics. Push aside those who just want easy answers. There is, and has always been a pent up interest and anxiety to connecting product to the market. That’s where success lies and that’s what we all drive towards.There’s no right way. There are as many opinions as there are people. That’s why it is so fascinating and important.

        2. Mark

          I totally agree with you, Michael. This is one of those posts that will naturally spark controversy because of its unfounded assumption that marketing should be looked at as “absolute”. We need to think of marketing (just like most other things that appear on a P&L) as something that is “relative” to the company and the people behind that company. For some companies, it may be smarter to initially get customers to sell and market your products for you. Others it may not be so cut and dry. Sometimes it’ll take money, sometimes it wont. But there are many many factors that go into what makes a successful business successful.Although, it would be interesting to know what REALLY inspired Fred to write this post lol.

          1. fredwilson

            that is very clear. it was the top liked request on my blogging block post

      3. Scott Yates

        Thanks so much for this.I’m developing the numbers for my next business, and I put a bunch of marketing expenses in thinking, “Investors will want to know I’m spending money on marketing” even though I didn’t want to spend money on marketing, I wanted to not spend money doing everything you mentioned.Now my numbers reflect that, and if some investor wants to know where the marketing budget is I’ll send him/her to this post.

        1. Alysonrblair

          Please seek a second opinion. Even if you spend nothing, a marketing plan is an important roadmap for your new business.

          1. Scott Yates

            I’ve got a plan. It was remarkably similar to Fred’s 7 points above. I also had a line in the budget to spend money on… something… not sure what, but I’m sure I could have spent it. I probably would have just snuck that money over into development somehow.Now I have a plan and an appropriate budget to put that plan in place.And the budget is less than a thousand bucks, mostly to be spent on plane tickets.

          2. Jonathan Trenn

            That’s all well and good, but what is the product or service? How will you measure your efforts?From what I see, too many entrepreneurs see their product/service as the next best thing, a “no brainer” to buy and/or use. They end up figuring that they don’t need to invest anything in marketing. And they fail because no one ever hears of them.

      4. Jan Schultink

        There are many ways to interpret “marketing”.For many investors, it is often the line in the P&L (add “expenses”)For Seth, it is the invention of the concept that will “wow” the consumerI think the 2 of you are on the same page.

      5. lemino

        Marketing is the company go to market. Same as public relations is developing mutual relationship between an organization and its publics (I didn’t come up with this, it’s a UK definition for PR).Your 8 points pretty much sum up our startup’s marketing work plan.User acquisition is just one way of “buying users” and strange as it may sound to you I met with some investors who actually wanted to know how much we plan to spend on it. At some point, I imagine we will.

      6. Blacknox

        Marketing as we knew it is dead. Long live the relationship.

    24. sean blankenship

      Biggest mistake I see everyday. Great that you pointed it our Seth.

    25. JohnExley

      And because Fred “allows” comments, conversations like these are possible, Seth. Imagine you were the one writing a post that rubbed Fred the wrong way. What’s Fred to do? Email you? He can’t tweet you…can’t comment on the post itself…Because of that, Seth, you’re able to jockey for position in the comments and help people like me who are trying to learn this kind of stuff actually learn it.So please sir, allow comments on your blog and maybe students like me will start reading it again.

    26. Trevor Miles

      Yes it is correct that Marketing /= Advertising, and I agree that Fred would have been better served to have used advertising. But I think the deeper question is how do you get your story out at different stages of the product cycle? If we overlay Geoffrey Moore’s concept of ‘cross the chasm’ – does anyone still subscribe to that idea? – my take is that Fred is cautioning not to use tactics in the early stages of a product life cycle that are more appropriate for late stage products.

  11. anne weiler

    Remember the 5 Ps of marketing? Product. People. Placement. Price. People. I doubt you’re advocating that start-ups don’t consider this. It seems you’re trying to say do it for “free”, which of course isn’t free since someone needs to make the decisions.I understand you may be trying to be controversial, but this doesn’t help the rift between marketing and development in many tech companies.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      …and then the tragic rift between marketing and sales.

      1. awaldstein

        True…but when the customer or the community is the focus from the onset, marketing and sales and development all dance to the same drum beat. Marketing and sales. Marketing and finance. Attheir best, two-sided coins.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          I honestly never thought of it like that — do I understand correctly that you are suggesting that it is a lack of focus on the customer/community that causes those traditional rifts or in some cases chasms or even rivalries?

          1. awaldstein

            In my experience, yes.My best friends are always the sales leads and the CFO.Sales mavens understand that marketing is their best friend to help discover customers. And smart marketers know that sales team are the best marketing channels to build brand and exposure to the market. Tied at the hip.With finance, since marketers in developed companies are always the largest discretionary budget, building plans with metrics to gage ROI breeds good partnerships with finance. Great CFOs are not focused on savings they are focused on profitable growth. Marketing is the kicker here as there is no growth with a discovered market.

          2. Peter Beddows

            Could not have put it better: Well said Arnold.

          3. PhilipSugar

            There are always going to be riffs between departments and within departments. The key is orchestrating those so they are creative not destructive that comes from the top.I think that can best be done by requiring respect, over communicating, and letting people walk in others shoes.Support/Development = Helping customer vs. more development workSales/Mktg = I’d have more sales if I had more leads/better material vs. I don’t know what you guys do vs. you go get rejected all the time.I could go on and map each….and then the inter department versus intra department

    2. Tereza

      I’ve been following gamification expert Gabe Zicherman who’s defined a sixth P — Pleasure.I love that and I think it is the key to this whole discussion, in the consumer web world.The user’s every interaction with the product needs to incite pleasure (or even better, delight).You need marketing DNA on the product team who lives and breathes the life of that user and can locate all their pleasure points and triggers.What makes them smile, laugh, go ‘oooooo!’To do this you have to really authentically like your target user. Love, in fact.At core it’s seduction, no?Maybe that’s why women can make great product people. At our best, we love pushing buttons that make people squeal in delight.Yes, UX is the new marketing. No ‘marketing’ person today can get away without UX skills…..while no true UX person can lack marketing strategy and consumer insight chops. A viral loop requires both.

      1. Peter Beddows

        That sounds like the philosophy you have adopted in developing and promoting Tereza. Good strategy.

        1. Tereza

          Trying! Not sure you’re ever ‘there’.Having no budget makes it really easy to spend no money on marketing! Where else but inside the product and in the soles of my own shoes.And btw as someone who’s sold a lot of advertising….I’m very skeptical of advertising. 🙂

          1. Peter Beddows

            I completely understand, empathize and agree on all points.I suspect that, in the case of Honestly Now, you’ll grow through the sharing of the positive experiences of your early adopters and do so far better than you might in any other way given no budget …. and perhaps even if you had a budget here.Fortunately, you are your own business’s greatest advocate, ambassador, evangelist and thus your own best marketer.

    3. fredwilson

      i really wasn’t trying to be controversial but i guess i was

  12. William Mougayar

    So it takes time & a do-it-yourself attitude.You forgot to mention that Blogging is part marketing because people find you based on your content, but it takes time.A lot of what you said is riding on the coat tails of viral marketing. So, in essence what you are saying is that if your product is not viral, then you’re not going make it past worrying about a real marketing budget.But you might need a person to help the founder implement these visibilty initiatives. You need to buy into an email marketing system to stay in touch with your users and that’s part of marketing. And you might need to fork some sponsorship money for some events or associations, although speaking at them is free marketing if you get invited.Not all founders are famous or backed by top VC’s who put them on the visibility map instantly (like you did for Dennis,Noel & others). I would argue that getting funded by a top tier VC is a marketing shot in the arm. The rest will happen if your product is good and you continue to bring value to its users.

    1. awaldstein

      Not all founders have a marketing DNA.Its somewhat erroneous to build a discussion based on the Zynga’s or Twitter’s of the world. They are the absolute exception.Most startups and companies need someone with that DNA to inform the process early on. Tactics and budgets and all the rest will come later.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        “They are the absolute exception.”Very important!

      2. Peter Beddows

        Exactly: Wise, true and realistic.

      3. William Mougayar

        Arnold, totally agreed. So what you’re saying they’ll need help on the marketing front, and that costs money somewhere.

        1. awaldstein

          Stuff costs money certainly.I’m a believer that having guidance early on building viral loops in the product, establishing the beginnings of community, knowing who to hire when and how to pace outreach against product development is key.Marketing is tough. Semantics as we see in this post is an ever going swirl of emotional preconceptions. And finding a someone with business sense and market savvy that you connect with ain’t easy.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Blogging is marketing. Pure and simple.(Not saying that blogging equals marketing — that’s different.)

      1. Peter Beddows

        Blogging and tweeting are tactics within the overall – and inevitable for success – marketing plan.

  13. Andy

    sad myopic view considering it comes from someone for whom I have very deep respect in these matters. ‘…Marketing is something you do when your product sucks….’ – no Fred, LACK of marketing is something you do when you are founded early on by engineers ONLY/ with NO Marcom guys on board. LACK of marketing is why many companies are only worth $100 Million, as opposed to $1 billion….why not be all you can be? Marketing should, no MUST be woven into the very fabric of your product. Every product I have represented as marketing lead has gone on to be #1 in it’s space (market share and reputation). Should I have read your aforementioned advise, and followed it – I can assure you my results would not have come close to achieving that success rate. Though your points of what a company SHOULD do are excellent – to simply tell entrepreneurs to throw out their marketing plan, and marketing budget out is simply wrong. Shame on you Fred.

    1. Oo Nwoye - @OoTheNigerian

      care to expand further?

    2. kidmercury

      oh snap……lol i agree, not sure i would go so far as to as put shame on fred though

    3. nafisto

      I think Fred’s point is that dedicating precious dollars to non-human-resources for marketing at the earliest stages of a company is not cost effective. Putting the right people and mindset in place early on to get your name out there and stake your claim to your market is the right approach. I have a feeling Fred would agree with you about the dangers of being too inwardly focused.

      1. Peter Beddows

        That is how I read Fred’s take in this blog. The only issue may be the semantics in the topic headline for, as Seth Godin points out, “Marketing ≠ Advertising”.Nonetheless, while advertising is a subset of marketing and is a process that may be accomplished without a having a specific budget by using the tactics listed throughout this blog comment thread, a business without any form of marketing is likely not a viable business regardless of whether or not the “product sucks”.

    4. fredwilson

      i didn’t think a marketing consultant would like this postbut i don’t take any shame in that

  14. johndodds

    What Seth said. Though I would have said promotion rather than just advertising.

    1. Peter Beddows

      I like “promotion”: says so much more than “advertising” and is what really needs to be done, and accomplished, to effectively grow customer acquisition.

  15. Josh Yehoshua Kramer

    2 Comments and a Suggestion…People have already made the point that you will require some money to do your acquisition marketing, even if it’s in spikes of spending around events and swarms (to use a foursquare term) of people. Perhaps net net its less than a monthly marketing spend, or perhaps its more, but more effective (lower CPA), not sure.This post seems to talk about acquisition marketing. When we talk about marketing, especially consumer brand/platform marketing, we typically talk in terms of a funnel we need to convert people through. The funnel is generally a mass-marketing term analogous to that series of steps we would call a sales pipeline process or sales cycle if it was a 1:1 human-driven process. They start with awareness, discovery, acquisition (sometimes multi-phase acquisition), and then get unique to each business depending on business model, supply/demand dynamics, etc. We try to ‘convert’ people down the funnel, rung-by-rung. As a consumer internet platform community, we probably spend more time on average focused on everything past acquisition marketing, because that is how we build enterprise value and increase the value of every dollar spent tomorrow on acquisition, by improving all of our Ps, and increasing our ‘engagement’, ‘loyalty’, ‘ARPU’, etc. When we look at marketing we really have two main metrics we can look at: CPA (cost-per-acquisition) and LTV (lifetime value of a customer). Our gross margin starts at LTV – CPA, so driving up LTV is arguably generally more strategic than driving down CPA, although that is obviously a long-term view.There are many forums for information exchange on B2C marketing, and each quarter there is a new trendy buzzword or campaign which everyone is trying across media, retail, and social. Since this is a community of consumer internet entrepreneurs & investors, would it make sense to run a series similar to MBA Mondays covering the B2C practice of Marketing, across the eco-system and through the full-funnel?

  16. awaldstein

    Hey Fred…thanks for this.Couldn’t disagree more with the premise but agree with lots of the assumptions in between.Marketing is about the value chain between product and market. That’s a big slice of a company’s DNA.You need it to find your first community as well as fixing the broken mismatch between a product and customer expectations.Marketing is about the relationship between the customer and the product. Sometimes it’s built into the product. Sometimes you need to build the community or fix the customer service or change the pricing or augment the channel.Tactics and strategies and endless ROI calculations abound. They are the data points you manage to not the essence of what is being attempted.Your example of the line item for outreach in a startup is where we agree. I would reject this and the pitch as well. But not because they asked for dollars, but because they thought that dollars were the answer. They had a hole in their vision. I would state that they don’t need money they need a market building perspective in their vision of who they are. That’s marketing.Understanding or better yet, creating the environment to build that value between product value and customer appreciation is what marketing does. Brand at its best is the outcome.You mentioned Groupon, but Gilt may be a clearer example. Brilliant marketing. Tactical email campaigns at their best but a core understanding of the brand is the essential element. They execute like an army. They understand who they are with the introspective depth of a visual artist.Re: your list…its a good one.A few points:1. Successful b2c companies almost always have a community. Now with Twitter and the graph we have tools that are powerful and free. But community and enthusiast and developers were almost always core, even with primitive technology.-we built Atari on the backs of its enthusiast group in a buzzing room of stacked servers for its BBS. Hundreds of thousands of game enthusiasts that drove channel sales. Before the web but not before enthusiasts.–we built Creative on the promise of the potential of a huge pile of developer aps for SDKs. Before the web really. Developers were the key.Community is key. Every business needs to find it. The tools and ability to find value chains and connections to your customers today is a dream. Not easy. No formula but much less capital intensive, at least at the outset. Marketing is the mindset to discover and manage the community.2. PR, Advertising, Email, PPC, SEO and on and on. Tools there for the using. All useless without a sense of self. Some potentially useful depending on the market and model.Someone made the statement that the best CEOs (and entrepreneurs) were marketers who could manage to a P & L.But few fit this mold. That’s why having marketing DNA as part of a core team is so critical.

    1. Peter Beddows


    2. sigmaalgebra

      Arnold, Andy, Seth, you guys are blowing me away; I’m wandering around confused. For me, your posts are like reading French, and my French stops at just some menus and wine labels. So, I can’t argue with any of you and am just trying to understand.As I posted on this thread, I really liked what Fred said, and I don’t fully understand any significant differences.So, to be more clear, let’s consider a topical scenario:Background. Joe has been a heavy Internet user from the beginning and keeps up on what’s going on.Problem. From this background and some effort at insight, he sees a problem shared by nearly all Internet users and, he guesses, fairly seriously by, say, 500 million.Channel. Joe’s idea is to deliver the solution to the users via a Web site.Revenue Model. In using the Web site, the users provide some data that Joe can use for targeting ads to the users. The revenue is to be from the ads.What the Users Want. Some of these 500 million users see some aspects of the problem and know that they would like a solution, but they have not formulated a good solution more than a Model T owner formulated a current BMW 7 series. Sure, they’d like it if they rode in it, but they aren’t going to think of it.Solution. To solve the problem, Joe had to do some core, technical work that stands to let his solution be significantly better, in ways the users will likely value, than anything else and at least for a few years difficult to duplicate or equal.UI/UX. Realizing that the Web site user interface and user experience are important, Joe worked to make his simple, easy to use, and easy for the users to get to the real results. At least users won’t get confused or challenged by a complicated Web site.Other. Joe’s business has some viral, lock-in, network effects and continuing contact, but they are not overwhelmingly strong. Some people in business will find the site important for their careers, but otherwise the site is ‘a nice to have’ but not a must have in terms of big bucks. A small but significant fraction of the users will find the site somewhat ‘addictive’ like some games.Okay, Joe is looking forward to his site going live.So, he needs some users to try the site, maybe give feedback, tell others, etc. Some of what Fred wrote should help in such things.Q 1. In this scenario, where’s the “marketing”? Is there actually no “marketing” at all? Or are some of items (a)-(h) below examples of “marketing”?(a) The original “background” was ‘marketing research’ and, thus, “marketing”?(b) The identification of the user’s problem to be solved?(a) Identifying the users?(c) Getting the technology for a solution that users should like better than anything else, thus, understanding both the users and everything else?(d) In real-time Joe has his software work out one user at a time which ads to run to maximize his ad revenue?(e) A good advertiser wants clicks from 500,000 different people by the end of the month, and Joe bids $Y for the business, with a significant penalty for each click under the 500,000?(f) The data used for ad targeting and the targeting techniques themselves?(g) The UI/UX?(h) The whole effort was marketing?Q 2. In this scenario, where do we illustrate that “Marketing is about the relationship between the customer and the product”?Q 3. Is there a “hole in [the] vision” of this scenario?Q 4. Does his scenario fail in building “that value between product value and customer appreciation”?Q 5. Does this scenario fail in the “core understanding of the brand is the essential element”?Q 6. Where are the “self” and “who you are” with “introspective depth of a visual artist” here?Q 7. Where is the “DNA to build the right product” here?Q 8. Where is “the value chain between product and market” here?Q 9. Is there a “vision which includes building a market early on” here?Q 10. Does this scenario fail on having “marketing DNA as part of a core team”?

    3. fredwilson

      great commentthere were a few errors in this post. the diss on marketing up front being the main onebut also, i left out customer service which may be the most powerful form of marketing of all

      1. awaldstein

        Thanks for the opportunity to surface this topic. A lot of fun and lots of learning.Re: customer service…the oft thrown around phrase that ‘customer service is the new sales channel’ holds a lot of truth to it.

      2. andyidsinga

        oh! Thanks for mentioning customer service. I started my career in tech. support – every customer i ‘fixed’ was, i believe, somone who would continue to consider our products and services.

  17. LIAD

    For the kind of companies Fred wants to back – i.e. ones which can grow into large networks of engaged users – being able to scale solely using the levers outlined acts as a great predictor of future success and subsequent profitability.I don’t think these are the right marketing levers for all web startups but are spot on for the platform plays looking for rapid adoption at extremely low marginal cost.

  18. NS

    It would be helpful to agree on what “marketing” is. Seth has a great line on that in his comment. Hopefully this should result in the acquisition of customers. Having done marketing in a VC funded company, couple of interesting dimensions here . One is “free” vs. “$ spent”. Especially in a startup, the time spent by key people in telling people about their product is almost as valuable as $$ spent as they need to make smart decisions on where and how they tell their story. The other dimension is generalization vs. specialization where in larger companies the story telling role evolves into a full time job – marketing.

  19. yofrez

    We all realize that customer acquisition isn’t free. I think the idea of the post is that you don’t need to buy ads to when you first launch. BranchOut is a great example of a company that used social hooks and product design to grow their user base rather than paid ads. I do think their is room for SEO in nearly every business, possibly excluding mobile and FB apps. Hubspot is a great example of how effective inbound marketing can be in driving traffic to a site.I would also check out David Skok over at Matrix for his posts on viral marketing and user acquisition

  20. Oo Nwoye - @OoTheNigerian

    Fred,What do you consider an acquisition; getting someone to the site or getting someone to pop in the email?I also agree with Seth on you describing advertising not marketing.

    1. baba12

      LivingSocial spent $20MM acquiring 2MM customer emails. Now that is customer acquisition where I would guess the math to me is unclear and I am not sure they would recover that cost.

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        That example is one of many things that irks me… whoever made and defended that expenditure is definately government material ;D

      2. Dan Sweet

        Are the LivingSocial numbers a reference to the Amazon $20 for $10 deal?

    2. fredwilson

      doing a transaction is way better than simply visiting

  21. sigmaalgebra

    Nice. Very nice. Real expertise: Great formulation, ‘synthesis’, content, and clarity. Several clear points for, in total, nice coverage of the subject.Thanks, I needed that. Definitely learned a lot.A lesson: A lot of it was right in front of me, but I didn’t see it. So, need to look more carefully at what is close at hand.Maybe such marketing approaches wouldn’t work for everything, but, for a project trying to get the first million Internet users, it’s overwhelmingly natural to reach these users via the special functionality of the Internet!Theme: Don’t spend much money! Nice! A special case of, if thinking about a 1000x ROI project, might (A) take $1 million and make $1 billion or (B) might take $1000 and make $1 million: Of these two, definitely start with (B)! When that works, consider (A) again!My project looked good when I first thought of it and looks better now, but how to reach the first million users remains an issue: Solved? No. Solvable? Maybe! On this issue, you just took Waldstein’s pitch and knocked it out of town!My project has some ‘viral’ features but could use and maybe needs more; will try to find ways to add more. You mentioned some viral effects that are more effective ‘entering wedges’ than I’ve had in mind; I need to look for such.In my project at this point there are both need and room on the front burner for effort on such ‘strategy’: Since for the work in my original plans the hard work is done and all the rest is routine, it’s time to add to the planned work, and such marketing strategy just got added with your post the outline.I can implement some of what’s in your post and will keep the rest in mind and look for ways to implement. And will try to generalize and look for ways to implement that.A lot of time on the Internet is a waste but some of it, e.g., here, is crucial.Nice.

  22. johndodds

    Afterthought: if marketing is what you do when your product sucks – does that mean that all advertising-financed businesses are essentially facilitating the duping of their customer base?

    1. fredwilson

      there was an or at the end of that linebut as you can tell from the comments, this post had a lot of flaws in it

  23. Tim O'Brien

    I agree with Seth. Marketing != Advertising. What I think you are trying to say is that early stage startups shouldn’t be purchasing attention. If your idea isn’t good enough to attract attention by itself, you’ve got larger problems.But marketing is so much more than ad buy and PR. If your startup doesn’t budget for marketing activities like lead generation/tracking, content generation, and documentation (yes, I view documentation as marketing), you are missing out on opportunity. This is especially true if your product is geared toward developers. You talk about taking advantage of developers as the new power users. How do you reach developers? I’d argue that this is as much marketing as anything else.This is especially true for technology startups, that last mile of making your product easily accessible, available, and lovable. I’m going to suggest that your early-stage startups should have at least one “marketing engineer”. It sounds like as misnomer, I know.

    1. Robert Holtz

      @Tim O’Brien: Agreed wholeheartedly. You nailed it exactly.

  24. jonathanmendez

    I know of at least 2 consumer focused start-ups that spent money on AdWords (Search Engine Marketing) pre-launch to get incredibly valuable data driven insights around product/market fit, consumer messaging, demand and competition. It’s a great strategy and if executed correctly well worth the investment. More people need to view Search as Business/Consumer Intelligence.

    1. andyswan

      ABSOLUTELY. If you’re smart, you’re just paying for A/B tests, general public honest feedback, and usability roadblocks. If you’re lucky…you figure out a way to get customers at 10 cents on the dollar.

    2. Steve Poland

      Agreed. Facebook Ads can be great for finding testers- you can get your service/product (ads) in front of niches people- like only people that have liked Justin Bieber, or only people in Buffalo, NY or only people that are single, or only men, etc.

  25. andyswan

    I’m not going to get into a terminology argument….and I’m not really going to agree or disagree with Fred’s premise (there are examples like twitter/mint and there are examples like proflowers/lifelock….it really can go either way)BUT—There is gold in this post. VERY very good thoughts on how to grow a bootstrapping business. Fred, just change the title to “7 ways to market your business without spending” and delete everything but the numbers….

    1. awaldstein

      Agree that there are some good ideas in here. Knew there would be with this community.My objection is that this ‘again’ reduces marketing to a list of things to do rather than an approach to a solution.Everyone wants to be told how to grow their biz of course. No easy solution and no one solution that fits all.

      1. Peter Beddows

        I love the phrase “My objection is that this ‘again’ reduces marketing to a list of things to do rather than an approach to a solution” because I agree with you Arnold: Marketing is so much more than a static laundry list of chores.Marketing goes to everything from the earliest identification of a pain point that is worth resolving to connecting the solution with the largest possible paying audience in the quickest possible time frame with the least waste of effort and money ~ hence, as you have pointed out elsewhere here, it has to be at least somewhere in the DNA of the founders and is a “process” rather than a “function”.

    2. fredwilson

      the andy edit FTW

  26. Tom Labus

    I have trouble with the launch with no marketing talent concept.. It’s like jumping out of an airplane without the chute. Why would you want to do that? Why not have a another pair(s) of eyes.I’ve seen marketing have a new and better insight to an existing product that was completely overlooked by the development team. Even if you don’t want to spend that marketing $, the talent and bucks should be around from the beginning.

  27. jarid

    Recognizing you’re just trying to stoke the fire with the only need marketing “when your product or service sucks” comment, I still feel obligated to chime in, as someone who has switched over from the development side to the marketing side…Word of Mouth, PR, SEO, etc. IS marketing. You may not need to spend tons of money on it at first, but you still need to do it. And you need to spend time on it to do it right. History is filled with great products that failed because of poor marketing (e.g. Betamax).A solid product (i.e. one that doesn’t “suck”) is the cost of entry. Marketing is the accelerant that fuels the fire and helps get adoption. And, over the long term, Marketing builds a brand, and a brand is why people pay more for a Lexus than a Toyota or for Belvedere than Absolut.

    1. awaldstein

      Having a dinner party and not inviting anyone to come will most certainly lead to disappointment 😉

  28. Alan Pearlstein

    Fred,In 2005 we launched an online bank called The bank offered a higher savings rate than its only competitor at the time, ING Direct. Some people thought that all we had to do was sit back, do a little PR, get the word out and then everyone would come. After all, we had a higher rate, why wouldn’t everyone just switch to us? The Company did indeed have a better product, but we didn’t start rolling until we started advertising. In order to grow, we needed to have a presence when people were looking for savings banks, and that required advertising. While I agree that many new products that are creating new services do not need to advertise in the beginning, there are many new products and services that enter more established markets that need to advertise. It is not a statement about the quality of the product, but a statement about the market. Had we done what you suggested above for a marketing strategy, they would not have acquired the billions of dollars of assets in such a short time, Your definition of when startups should spend money on marketing and when they shouldn’t is too narrow. Its more product/service/market specific. I would suggest this theses, when your product sucks, you are wasting money marketing it. There are many times when spending money on advertising upfront can payoff big time.

    1. Ronnie Rendel

      Maybe a higher rate wasn’t enough to make your product “non-sucky”. I think Fred’s right, as depressing (sobering) a thought as it may be…

      1. Alan Pearlstein

        the product was and still is a great product. you missed my point. people flocked to it when we advertised. some products/services require the push that advertising can provide, some don’t. i think Fred’s opinion is biased because of the types of co’s he invests in. he is right, many don’t need advertising. If Twitter started paid advertising early on, they would have been wasting money.

        1. Yann Ngongang

          @Alan, great point.Fred’s argument is valid but is a gross generalization imho. Community/communication business may not need advertising, especially when it’s about tapping a new & growing market, behavior, platform.But transaction new business that tap existing markets need to advertise. I do believe that transaction startups that advertise, need an economic model that is dramatically better than the incumbent’s, ie: (lifetime value – customer acquisition cost)…It doesn’t mean cost acquisition cost needs to be ZERO.

    2. jarid

      Agreed. I’ve seen the Field of Dreams strategy (“if you build it, they will come”) fail many times.

      1. Sam Morris

        depends on what you’re building and where you build it if they come or not

    3. awaldstein

      Every situation requires its own solution.There are lots of rules of thumb. Lot’s of great tools and tactics. Never one plan that fits all.

    4. Nik Cubrilovic

      You were in an industry, banking/finance, where you need to establish brand and trust. Users try out a new webapp and the worst that can happen is they get a failwhale – with banking/finance the worst that can happen is they lose real money.banksimple will have this issue – I think they will need to spend up on the ads+marketing to establish trust

    5. fredwilson

      aren’t you in the category along with coke, zynga, bud, and viagra?

  29. Panoptika Partners

    I came in here gunning for you when I saw this remark. Then I discovered we’re just not speaking the same language when we say “marketing”. What I’m afraid readers will miss is the second highlight:Then you can spend on customer acquisition.I can’t tell you the number of inventor/creator type clients who, when deciding to pitch their next idea and it doesn’t go as well as the first, say it’s because “the customer is stupid.”Something to think about…

  30. baba12

    The bloggers block is gone. Or maybe it is fading away.Marketing is for sucky products/services. But once you have proven that your product/service is great and you are there to stay, why then continue to market. Is it making sure consumers are constantly aware of the brand. Would Apple sales slow down if they stop marketing or would Channel slow down in sales if they stopped their marketing efforts.Established brands feel this need to market on a continuous basis and I am not sure if it is to keep consumers aware of their brand or is it something else.Also if you read this post of Mr.Wilson’s, remember folks that USV would like to see zero dollars in column for Marketing.Whether your product/service sucks or not will be determined by the end user but I think spending your dollars on design and keeping it simple and clean will be better than trying to market crap. I like that USV has not much being spent on marketing either, they provide a good product/service of their own and I am guessing AVC is a cheap but effective marketing tool in terms of building USV’s brand.

    1. fredwilson

      it is only expensive in terms of the time i spend on it, which is significant

    2. Michael

      You ask, “Would Apple sales slow down if they stop marketing…?”If you misunderstand marketing as something bolted on after the fact, rather than baked in from the get-go, then of course the answer is no. But the answer is actually a resounding yes; it’s the reason Apple is no longer Apple Computer. I mean that in the largest sense possible.Here’s why: At the outset of Steve ][, Apple began by looking out at the market and understanding that they were still competing on the OS; so they deep-dove on market insight and came to the conclusion that the OS was just a piece of a much larger puzzle involving media and devices; they knew that Apple’s future was about being the definitive digital lifestyle brand, something well beyond a “user friendly” PC; then, literally everything about the company changed, starting with something near & dear to Steve’s heart — music — and it started with the iPod, grew into iLife (with iTunes as a central part) and informed the design and development of everything else, from OS X to their hardware product lines to even the retail stores as a physical hub of the digital lifestyle; this exploded the company and its opportunities by completely redefining their market.To get back to the name change, it was all this activity that ultimately resulted in the change to the brand. But without Steve Jobs’ deep understanding and rigorous application of marketing, none of this would have happened.

  31. Rick Bullotta

    Let me throw a slightly different spin on things. I think that “traditional” marketing in a new startup/new venture is largely pissing away money, mostly because I would contend that you have NO IDEA what your real value proposition is, until you’ve had substantive interaction with real users and consumers of your product or service. I completely agree that you need to focus on leveraging relationships/networks, social media, or whatever else works for you to obtain and nurture that first wave of customers.There are some also fundamental differences targeting a consumer with an online offering, a consumer with a tangible/physical product, and an enterprise customer with anything. Enterprise customers tend to require more “proof” and therefore some traditional marketing efforts are often needed to prime the pump.

  32. Harry DeMott

    It is an interesting perspective. I think Fred because the basic mantra of the USV investment thesis is something along the line of – Large Engaged Networks – the overt marketing of the services (and here I am going to agree with most of the comments – Seth Godin’s most prominently – that you are using marketing and advertising interchangeably to the detriment of marketing) is somewhat moot. In fact – if you have to do marketing for these sorts of services – then you have already lost the battle to a superior product.when they turn from viral user and engagement growth to actual business growth – that’s where the return on incremental advertising and marketing come in.

  33. leigh

    “don’t be a google bitch” best line ev’a

  34. lance

    I don’t think Fred ever said that marketing = advertising. As a matter of fact most of his actionable suggestions have little of anything to do with advertising at all.As a guy that has spent some time marketing startups and now advises startups on how to get going I agree with the majority of what he lays out in this article. One of the most important lessons is that investors do not like to see funding rounds spent on marketing unless there is already traction and some proven methods to scale the business from a marketing perspective.

  35. Jim C

    My neighbor is a plumber who started his own business. Are you suggesting he rely solely on Twitter and Facebook for customer acquisition?If a pipe bursts in your home, will you go to Facebook/Twitter to find a plumber? My guess is you’re Googling “plumber {my town}” or maybe even dusting off your yellow pages book from 1998 (the last one you kept).You do a lot of damage to successful marketers with a narrow-minded post like this, Fred.

    1. Dave W Baldwin

      That neighbor’s biggest block of business will be via word of mouth, for someone who needs the plumber is going to find out who they can trust…. in the case of a plumber, you want to be listed for the person with an emergency, but otherwise the public knows of whom to use and/or whom to ask.

      1. Jim C

        Word of mouth is great, but it is earned. Startup’s can’t benefit from WOM because they don’t have the benefit of time. No history = no WOM.Fred’s article suggests every business should rely solely on Twitter/Facebook, otherwise their product/service “sucks”. Does my neighbor’s service suck if he aggressively seeks customers through paid channels in order to grow a customer base?

        1. fredwilson

          that’s not what i said Jim Cyou are just focusing on the parts of the post you don’t like

    2. markslater

      or you could go to getabl – gesture your interest and have an audience of local plumbers compete for your business by offering any manner of incentives in realtime……

    3. fredwilson

      well “successful marketers” have done a lot of damage to our portfolio companies over the years. i’d say it’s a fair trade

  36. Dan Ramsden

    The product that sells itself vs. the product that should be actively sold probably depends as well on market share and valuation. At some point, the marginal customer has to be prodded, and if you need that customer to support valuation expectations, then the product can’t merely sell itself anymore. I wonder if a bubbly environment, then, serves to take the marketing issue into unnatural directions?

  37. GUEST

    For tech startups this may be true (if switched to advertising), however, there are plenty of companies that require advertising to get going. Zynga is a VERY rare example. Further more, for companies like Service Magic, which was once a startup, it needs to acquire customers, they aren’t going to come flocking because of a twitter post.Maybe with your investment thesis the companies you invest in don’t need to advertise, but many do, and that doesn’t make them a “sucky service or product”.I usually agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but can’t agree with this.

  38. David Haber

    I know you guys really don’t focus on this.. but how do you think marketing should play out with e-commerce businesses?

    1. Dave W Baldwin

      eCommerce will play out heavily thru the mobile tools. The trick is to fashion a service that places the business and/or their wares in front of the customer at the customer’s convenience.There are (from what I read yesterday) a few who are thinking of something clever along this route and my side that has it ramped up a little more… it is just a matter of being comfortable with what you can envision happening in 2018-19 realizing it can be in 2014-15.With eCommerce, don’t get trapped into today/yesterday.

  39. Dave W Baldwin

    Brilliant post and maybe consider what Swan suggest regarding the change of title.Ladies and Gentleman, it is a matter of ‘Forest Thru The Trees’.A) You have an idea. Generally a good idea will have input from both the Tech and Evangelist. That means the Evangelist should have some consumer knowledge that enables the great idea to be fashioned into something the bigger market will want/desire.B) Yes, I have the multiyear expense spread that includes marketing. In a sense, that is bullshit because the exact amount you are to spend on marketing will depend on many things happening between the ‘Pre-Alpha’ thru Beta to Launch.C) The Times They Are A Changin’: Vision/Forward-Reverse/Engineering… Put the right plan together that appeals to the money side of things, get past the ‘fear in thier minds’ stage and you can do the bigger project at a lesser cost. This is where you have to congratulate Gogii…build the market (test and consumer base) via the ‘free’ to then show the ‘deluxe’ versions that can gain revenue via ad, targeted ad and/or subscription. D) One final… I know I may come off the wrong way to some, but I’m still blown away over the way to gain the public that does not require ad dollar and will gain you in excess of that 1mm user goalpost. Two gentlemen who read this will recieve what I’m talking about. It fits the different dimension of The Art of War and have those with groups WANT to show your product hoping to impress you.

  40. ShanaC

    More questions: as part of the Seth Goin critique, how should your marketing plan (eg. Engage the community) be used as feedback on both your marketing and product?

  41. Mike

    Honestly, this is why I don’t tend to listen to VC’s when they try and talk about something they don’t get. This article really underscores a total lack of understanding of marketing. Leave it to the experts, Fred. What I think you meant to post is really a conversation about 1) how much should be in an entrepreneurs’ marketing budget; 2) free versus paid marketing. You say that early stage companies that market are just trying to mask bad products, but then you go on to list marketing strategies. It doesn’t matter if they’re free or paid, you rattled off things that are better known as marketing. Twitter is a communications and marketing platform. Search/SEO? Marketing. Events? Marketing. You get my drift. More on my blog.Read more: http://www.businessinsider….

    1. toddgeist

      “Twitter is a communications and marketing platform”That is only half right.It is a communications platform. And like all other successful communication platforms it quickly becomes a spamming platform.

      1. William Mougayar

        Agreed. If you’re famous and have many followers, Twitter will amplify your message, but Twitter won’t necessarily make you famous because you’re tweeting good stuff. That takes hard work and time, like anything else.

        1. Mike

          I wasn’t talking about the legitimacy or merits of Twitter. I was just saying that it is one marketing strategy (more a communication platform as Todd says) businesses use and that in the context of Fred’s incorrect points, that he was in fact listing off things that could be considered marketing.

        2. awaldstein

          Marketing is hard patient work. Just like building a company 😉

  42. Steve Hallock

    I could’t agree more, Fred.My current business, high-end mechanical watches, is dominated by marketing budgets. The big brands fill the ad space of every magazine you can pick up on the rack, and little guys pop up every day with millions of dollars who want to start their own brand – their first step is always a huge marketing budget.Coming from a background in tech, I had never seen anything like this. My company is structured a lot like a tech startup. We have (comparatively) no money, but we have ideas. We believe that if we make the best products, tell an interesting story, and work hard to tell it to the right people, good things will happen.The results have been tremendous. I, the President here, and our CEO in Switzerland do all of the PR ourselves. We create personal relationships with the journalists and clients and therefore have full control. We administer our social media accounts and connect for free wherever possible (have ~9000 fans on facebook and make 150 watches/year!) We can launch a new product on an hour’s notice and are widely admired in the industry for having some of the most covered, most talked about product releases.Precisely the fact that we do not spend money and instead fully exploit free resources and our skills is perhaps the single biggest factor that has let us reach the top of our field. The drawbacks are that it is incredibly time consuming, and you need to find people with unique and broad skill sets (being capable of successfully communicating is, unfortunately, not as common a skill as it should be, and often comes without other necessary skills for running a business).Thanks for the thought-bait. I could go on this one for a long time.Best,Steve

    1. Todd_Andelin

      Sounds like a cool company. Can I see a web link?

      1. Steve Hallock

        1. Todd_Andelin


          1. Steve Hallock


        2. fredwilson

          marketing in action in the AVC comments!!!!

          1. Steve Hallock

            ha! not my intention, but it is amazing how much “marketing” can be done by simply being in the right places and talking to the right people.

          2. fredwilson

            it was well played and totally fair and appropriatei love it

          3. Robert Holtz

            @Steve Hallock: I love it too. Here it is on display. Proof that, even as you assert otherwise, you not only engage in marketing at a fundamental level of your company but, given @todd-fox literally gave you consent to market to him, you have even gone to the more advanced levels and have publicly engaged in permission-marketing.Check and mate.

    2. JeromePineau

      Steve, see my comment about your comment on your blog :)Best,J.

  43. Donna Brewington White

    But, wait, it sounds like a lot of the things you are describing fit into the classic description of marketing — you’re just not calling it marketing because it doesn’t have a budget and a “marketing person” doing it.If a company decides on a name, isn’t that a marketing decision. If a company decides on a product, a name for that product, who to sell it to and how to price it — aren’t those marketing decisions? Even before a marketing strategy is employed that creates cohesiveness, consistency and causes it to all hang together — where you’ve got something more like a bullet than a bunch of shrapnel, there are bits and pieces of marketing that are happening. The question is whether bits and pieces are as effective.Anyway, Fred, I can only imagine that this is excellent advice for those who are out in the trenches trying to launch or run a business…who don’t really care what you call it as long as it works.I’m sure that by the time it’s over with, Arnold and others will have added all that needs to be added…so I will happily continue to read the comments.Thanks for tackling this important topic and opening up the forum……or make that floodgates. This is gonna be interesting.

    1. Peter Beddows

      “If a company decides on a name, isn’t that a marketing decision. If a company decides on …….”? Exactly so; and that’s just a small but important part of the overall marketing process.

  44. John H

    Very wise words Fred, thanks. I am intrigued by your comments on the Foursquare, Twitter and Myspace founders – I’m currently in the process of preparing to launch a product in the Boston scene and am coming up with ways to create that “cult of personality” that was so essential to those founders’ success.Ultimately I think it comes down to having something that no one else has. I am the dedicated ‘marketing’ guy on our five person founder team and have repeatedly read about how I am unnecessary and will be a burden to the team. Instead, I am the one that is conscious of how the team is perceived by our community so that the other founders can focus on #8 (which should have been #1 in my opinion) – a great product is the best marketing you can have.

    1. JamesHRH

      John – cult of personality is a very difficult tactic to employ and works only in highly specialized situations. Unless you are building a company that is inseparable from you (and your reputation / brand is its main value added feature – Donald Trump is a great example) this is unwise.

  45. Elie Seidman

    While I broadly agree with the comment about building a better product as the most important thing, I worry that you’re drawing the prioritization of marketing tactics from the exceptional – e.g. Zynga, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare. The reality is that most companies – even very good companies that achieve significant success – will not benefit from the unique circumstances, talents, networks etc. that those companies benefited from.Stepping away from the “it” companies that you’ve referenced as the examples, does the advice continue to hold true in that order of priority?

    1. fredwilson

      good question

  46. toddgeist

    Seth says “marking must be authentic”.What Fred advises is so darn authentic that he doesn’t even call it “marketing”.What could be more authentic than that?

  47. Robert Pease

    Awesome post Fred and you actually wrote a marketing plan with steps 1-8. There are huge inefficiencies in marketing processes and the traditional marketing playbook is being rewritten around social outreach, influencer engagement, and making the product the engine of your marketing. This doesn’t take huge budgets but does take hustle and brains. Spending a bit of dough to drive these efforts makes sense as long as you are instrumented to know the cost per acquired user and number of additional users that paid user brings you.

  48. mike gilfillan

    Wow. This is great stuff! Thank you Fred for the insights.I agree 95%, especially AFTER having learned the hard way in ’98-00 that spending all that VC money on billboard, radio and print & online advertising, not to mention crappy PR firms, to “build out our Brand” — which was the leading trend back then on the way to filing your S-1.But with regards to launching a start-up (in ’95), I’d like to add that my money was well spent on small ads in the right places: a few billboards, tech magazines & related sites AND owning the top banner ad on my Yahoo Category. That single Yahoo ad cost us $1m a year and was the primary reason I sought investors to help expand my growing & profitable $5m a year web site. It worked well too, until Yahoo got greedy & stupid.Obviously times have changed and you can get the “word of mouth” going with social networking, but I would think that you could also spend a modest amount on a few well placed ads or keywords to further expand the “word of mouth” of social marketing.I also read that a great piece a while back on avoiding crappy PR firms (by Arrington at techcrunch, I believe).

  49. Rich Ullman

    When I went back and reread the original post, I noticed that Fred said, “For the consumer/free part of the web…” and then proceeded to his list. With that HUGE caveat in mind, ok… I don’t argue that much.One of, if not THE most important marketing objective for a new product/service is to get the story told to a critical mass of people who MAY become customers. And you will want to reach some of those people simply for their influence upon others. (Hmmm… think about how much “influencers” and their ability to influence has changed in the last few years.)What is this new thing and what does it solve for me the customer/user?It used to be that it required a lot more budget to get the story told, and get the ball rolling. Today, much less so. You pay for it in sweat and smarts, and you find ways for your audience to become advocates for you. That does not remove the exercises of market segmentation, channels, positioning, and storytelling. Then go bust your ass with telling your story to the right people.As for “when your product sucks.” Marketing (sic “advertising/promotion”) is the last thing where you should be stepping on the gas pedal. You’ll show everyone that is sucks. And, you will hear them say, “buh-bye.”There’s an old adage from the advertising business that the fastest way to kill a bad product is with great advertising. I’m extrapolating, but I find a little of that thought in point #9.

  50. alanp

    As you move into a bubbleworld and you are yet another me-too startup, the (allegedly tiny) cost of starting a Web 2.0 company is dwarfed by the cost of shouting out your name vs all the others.Hence the Rise Of The Marketing Budget. Happened in dotcom time, happening again….

    1. fredwilson

      so scary. i read your post alan. i can’t argue much with it

      1. alanp

        A link, if I may be so presumptuous :-)…Since I wrotre the above I see Ms Meeker has dived into NeoConOmics – the strongest signal yet pointing to S/V moving from looking at startup value vs finding next fool funding IMHO

  51. Brian Broadbent

    I would change this statement….”Early in a startup you need to acquire your customers for free. Later on, you can spend on customer acquisition.”TO”Early in a startup, you need to acquire your customers for free until you understand what a customer is worth to you and how you will convert them into a buyer. Once you understand what a customer is worth to you, you can and should aggressively spend on customer acquisition to the extent you are aquiring customers for less than what they are worth to your business.”

    1. fredwilson

      good suggestion

  52. jfccohen

    This is a great post to get Seth Godin (mentioned in many other comments) involved in. He has this stuff down – will send to him.Being in marketing, I agree with a lot of the above with the following addition: build a Purple Cow (a la Seth Godin). If your product is cool, people will adopt it and share it for you. I’ve never heard of someone telling me about an awesome new wooden chair…but they have told me about a chair that suspends differently and has no legs. People (especially early adopters) are inclined to tell people when they find something really cool (remember the iPod???)…make your product easy for others to endorse and easy to explain/share and you’re good to go.On THAT note, a solid elevator pitch is crucial for success with the general public. Michael Eisner when he was the CEO of Paramount Pictures only made “high concept movies” that could be described clearly in a couple of sentences so people could tell other people about it. If your company can be boiled down like that, people are more inclined to grasp it and share.

    1. fredwilson

      thanks for getting seth involved

  53. Renee

    I like this post, but I think the advice is useful for a much smaller demographic than “consumer/free part of the web”. The hardest users to attract are not the digerati and the developers…the network you’ve described (Twitter, etc) already ensures that those people will hear about cool things first and pass it along to other like-minded people. What about startups whose target demographic is less tech-savy, maybe a bit older? Say, something health related. Genealogy. Real estate. How do you market to the consumer/free part of the web that has a lot more purchasing power but isn’t plugged into Twitter and the tech blog scene in quite the same way? We all kind of laugh when the NYT writes an article about a “tech trend” that everyone in this community has known about for years, but it seems like you really need mainstream media attention if you’re a startup that focuses on the over-30 demographic..

    1. awaldstein

      Great comment…On the local front, that is one of the reasons Groupon/LivingSocial/et al, struck a cord. They provided that channel for that segment of merchants.The more vertical the audience the easier it is to think about finding the market is a rule of thumb that still holds true. Real estate in the Florida Keys. Health care for over x age. Golfers in Arizona and on and on. Verticals breed groups and orgs and keyword strings. B2B markets are usually attacked this way.But..I”m finding, at least in my work that acting like there are segments that are not addressable with a community mind and social tools is proving shortsighted.Someone asked me recently if my local restaurant or store or trainer really needs this ‘stuff’. If you have a product of value and the customer is mobile and networked (which they all are), then I would say yes.

      1. markslater

        great comment -i’ve been at the coal face with merchants over the last month and have some fascinating feedback vis-a vie the group buyers.I still maintain my stated “short” on the longevity of their approach. they will need to be a significant pivot on the horizon for these guys.

        1. awaldstein

          The changes in the group buying paradigm are fascinating.If you look at some of the big wins for them recently, Groupon especially, with the big national chains, it is not local. It’s national and online and using local as the key. The Gap in NY, Boston and on and on.Whether the gestalt of their roots evolves or stagnates with this remains to be played out.

        2. Tereza

          I’m so with you Mark. The ones I’m talking to are getting quickly skeptical.Especially services business — 40-90% off is a killer. They have to pay their people and their junior staff become disgruntled as these non-returning customers leave crappy tips.Local businesses need brand-building. In English, that means, develop real-live relationships with real people who are poised to become regular customers.

          1. Dave W Baldwin

            Just be patient. Businesses need to understand that the world has changed where you can place your name/image in front of a bigger market… when they all of a sudden understand, the look on their face is priceless

          2. markslater

            this is spot on.take a purchasing gesture from a consumer, match and deliver to an audience of merchants eager to win their business, compete, succeed……replicate.Its realtime, the downstream of which is a self-service on-demand group buying opportunity.Oh and there is an obvious business model in there too.

          3. Dave W Baldwin

            Thanks, going to send mentioned message per marketing to 3 people. Today I’m doing robot tournament.

          4. markslater

            you are absolutely spot on. This is the fundamental tenet against which we are building.A local merchant needs a set of tools that allow them to take back control of their incentive strategies, and facilitate realtime interactions with potential customers.we capture a consumers purchasing gesture NOT discovery gesture so much, and match to an audience of willing merchants eager to win their business in real-time.

          5. markslater

            here is the deal – new businesses win with the model as all they are focused on is customer acquisition.Low marginal cost businesses also win (they have already opened the doors for the day and have a staff that is there to provide a service – as you correctly point out)established Restaurants lose by and large. They fill their place, thats great – but they cannibalize capacity for full paying and loyal customers, they piss off the bar tenders who get tipped on half the value of the product they are moving, and they create an entire fraternity of people who’s price expectation going forward is chomping (no pun intended) at margin and who’s loyalty is to the next deal they can get their grubby mits on.Don’t get me wrong – what some of the group buyers have done is extremely significant – i am questioning the longevity of the model. Coupled with the fact that people like us are moving in to realtime connections and self service incentive tools and i see and am experiencing a very favorable juxtaposition from which to appeal to these local merchants.Alot of things in life are timing. Its a perfect time for us to be doing this 🙂

          6. Tereza

            I think that’s right — for new businesses, group discounts prime the pump. It’s the repeatability that’s a question.I’m not going after restaurants but I see large salons and medispas as the equivalent. All three win through great yield management, upselling, and great service. Healthy tipping ensures they retain the top service providers (waiters, colorists, nurse technicians, etc). Group buying pushes services down to, say, the junior trainee for your Botox. Nice!In addition to the large places, I find a ton of high-quality single-shingle providers (decorators, photographers, makeup artists, fashion stylists, in-home spray tanners). Group buying is tough to deliver a volume of service if it’s just you. Can you take a month out to service people at 80% off? You won’t pay the rent. Better to give discounted service to a friend of an existing customer. The social proof that comes with personal referrals has high value and these people know it intuitively. Higher repeat rate.I’m also seeing some of these small-fries getting steered to less-affluent adjacent geographies (e.g. from Fairfield County, CT over to New Haven County). There is no logic in them investing in new customers who are not in their geography. Their repeat rate will suck.Yes, the time is right!

    2. Tereza

      Such a great comment. I think much of the cool stuff we’ve seen has been for products developed for and marketed to people like themselves. So marketing in the traditional sense seems superfluous.But I see so many product gaps which I think are the source of ‘chasm’. Product people need to live and breathe the market they’re serving.I always thought I was a marketing person and generally a business person and problem solver that bridges markets and products. Always externally and user/customer focused. The last year someone called me a ‘product person’ — which in my old world would be close to a four-letter-word but I realized it’s possibly the highest compliment in this world.Interesting what you learn when you cross lines.Anyway, my current feeling is that UX is the new marketing.

    3. falicon

      I think this is mostly a framing issue…if Twitter or Facebook or other outlets are not ripe with your target audience, you have two things to think about:1. Is my target audience really big enough (completely off topic but still something to think about).2. How is my target audience tied to the core of the people on these services? What I mean here is, the people on social networks are ‘social’ by definition…frame the message to them properly and they are still going to spread the word for you (ie. who doesn’t love to tell their mom or dad about a product or service that is PERFECT for them? What mom or dad doesn’t weigh a product opinion from their kid much higher than random ads?).To me, it’s about defining both who you *want* to reach and who you *can* reach…then crafting the message so that it gets passed along properly…I leave it with this thought…there’s a reason there are so many jewelry ads during every NFL game.

    4. Amy

      Great comment Rene. You wrote what I was thinking. If you’re targeting consumers beyond digerati, you need marketing, good marketing.It’s ridiculous to talk about ditching marketing when most items on the list are marketing related. These items, however, are purely tactical; for tactics to work, they need to be part of a well thought-out, integrated and visionary marketing plan. Sure it’s easy to tweet, but what damage do you cause your brand if you don’ have a well thought out brand message and positioning?Why is it always people who’ve neither worked in marketing nor have a in-depth understanding of what it entails and the value it offers who are calling for eliminating it?I’m launching a start-up, so I have no vested interest in “paying” consultants, for what its worth. But I I know enough about marketing (pent mot of my career in it) to know where my strengths end and those of others should take over.A really good competent marketing person / team can do wonders for a start-up and that costs $.

  54. markslater

    Two Points:How many people are actually sitting in the seat of a founder and have these real-life decisions to make? I am. We were asked by every VC we met on wednesday – How are you going to get Consumers to “latch on” to your service? thats a “marketing question” no? My straightforward and honest answer – I DONT KNOW.I could have waxed on with a dissertation on all the points in the post – that frankly does not de-risk it for an investor – you still need data. At this stage in our life – an investor has to GET what we are trying to do – and recognize its tremendous opportunity if we execute. If they get to this point – then all of Fred’s points above become a “statement” of the obvious and the very nature of the service we have built incorporates natural aspects of all of these points. If you build an awesome product then these points are built in to the DNA of the company and its obvious that they are participants in our roll-out. SO i find the question – that marketing question – frankly a distraction and one that tells me the person asking it does not get what we have built at our core. that said – we must be mindful and active in nurturing the execution against alot of these points. Failing to do so is No bueno. finally – i read the post and thought – the old way of marketing things is wrong. figuring out ways to stuff things down people’s throats is not what tomorrows marketers are going to be doing. the old methods of marketing are what you do when your product sucks.

    1. awaldstein

      Interesting.When your product sucks, it just sucks. End of story. Old or new, pull or pull, will not solve the problem. Getting attention is not the same as getting adoption or customers.How would I answer a VC about marketing. Some thinking points:-When social or viral is part of the product fabric itself, marketing as part of the product design is a great answer.-When founders already hold a community position (as in being a public figure) that provides something of an answer as well. Attention will be there at least.-When there is a a vertical play, easy to articulate potential go to market strategies without details. True for b2b and b2c.-When the market is everyone, pick one pin, the large fish in a very small pond, and knock it down, as a potential approach.Anything other than these or an established partnership is hyperbole.Good comment Mark.

      1. markslater

        At the end of the day, when we succeed in finding the signal through the noise over the next few months, the boat will have sailed for those who failed to grasp the gravity of the opportunity by asking this question.

        1. awaldstein

          When appropriate mark, love to know what you are doing.I’ve followed your thinking in comments for a while. Smart thinking all along.

          1. markslater

            thanks arnold and i appreciate being guided by your expertise also…who needs Quora if you are a start up? just lurk and get involved at AVC and answers will firehose at you!The service is being tested in Boston – go to and add your name to the list and we’ll ping you as soon as we get to the big smoke!from what i know of your background – you’ll love it!

          2. awaldstein

            Will do. Thanks.

          3. Peter Beddows

            I find Quora interesting and useful but I totlaly agree with you on “who needs Quora if you are a start up? just lurk and get involved at AVC and answers will firehose at you!”Quite intrigued by the concept showing up in your web and I also agree with Arnold.

        2. falicon

          I get where you are coming from here…but I would say that you have to think of it like a prize fight…you might have all the physical gifts, look the part, and have a great attitude…and you just might even be the greatest fighter of all time…but no one gets a title shot without first building up a record…So the question is really all about, how are you going to build that record? What chumps are you going to school first? When will you step up your competition level? How long is it going to take before you’re really ready to challenge for that title?If you don’t have a plan (which is totally free to develop) for getting 10 customers…and turning that 10 into 100…and that 100 into 1000…and so on and so forth…why would an investor feel comfortable that once you’ve got money you’ll come up with the right answer?It’s not the NFL…generally investors are not going to give a big signing bonus to an unproven rookie (no matter what they did in their ‘college’ years or how they look at the combine)…All that being said, I don’t mean to say you guys aren’t building something awesome (you prob. are) and I don’t mean to say that you aren’t a smart bet (you prob. are there too)…just saying, I think ‘plan for traction’ or ‘actual traction’ is a fair roadblock for any investor to throw up (and it’s one we are currently hurdling ourselves so TRUST me I know where you are coming from)….

          1. markslater

            we have to wear our determination to succeed on our sleeves Kevin! i am not taking my ball and running home!I think that entrepreneurs who DO NOT take the position you articulate are going to be in trouble.

    2. fredwilson

      that last line is what i should have said!

  55. maxciociola

    Fred, would u mind if i translate in italian your blog and post on my blog quoting you? I think this is a great lesson for all italian startups.thanx

    1. fredwilson

      please do

  56. Donna Brewington White

    It would really solve a lot of problems if more marketers became startup founders or were part of the founding team.

    1. Jeff 'SKI' Kinsey


  57. Harvest Creative

    I have to respectfully disagree. You are confusing marketing and advertising. They are not one in the same. I completely agree that a startup shouldn’t jump right in and launch a traditional ad campaign and/or any other budget intensive initiative. At that point, a company doesn’t really even understand what they have to advertise. Your company, product and team will often take tens or hundreds of turns before you land on a solid direction. When you start a company you should be focused on building your brand. I often argue that your most important marketing decision happens the day you start your business. If you have a crappy product without a unique brand position it doesn’t matter how large your ad budget is because you’ll never see substantial success. However, having a quality product doesn’t ensure success either. You need to build a brand and market your fantastic product. Your Twitter reference is a fantastic example:”Biz was thinking about the brand, the story, the bird, the logo, the meaning of Twitter in the world. And he got out there and started telling the story. He is an evangelist and he did it so well. Twitter would not be Twitter without that effort. If you don’t have a Biz or Dennis on the founding team, find someone who can do this for you. But I will say that the best PR centric startups have the “media DNA” in the founding team.”But, you’ve mistakenly classified that as PR. What you’re talking about is 100% branding and brand development. A brand is not a logo, a brand is the perception customers/consumers have of your business. You can’t tell them what to think, but you can carefully craft your brand story in order to push them in a certain direction and set yourself up for success.To take one last step back…I’ll more specifically address the confusion between marketing and advertising. Everything you mentioned above is indeed marketing and I would argue a company absolutely can’t succeed without marketing.Twitter Account = MarketingFacebook Page = MarketingTradeshow Booth = MarketingBlog = Marketing PR = MarketingI could go on and on with the various free (in terms of dollars but not time) marketing initiatives that are crucial to today’s business world, but I think you get the idea.

    1. fredwilson

      yup. i plead guilty as charged.

  58. Frank Smythe

    For such a brilliant man – this was a ridiculously stupid post. Your right, marketing is not a department in every business today – marketing is the “STRATEGY” of every business today.Without marketing, where would you be in business today? Customers validate every business today. Without marketing, how do you get your business to the end user? If you’ve figured out another way, tell us. I can assure you that every multi-billion dollar company and below will listen to every word spoken or written.Very disappointing Fred. You’re smarter than this.

  59. kidmercury

    don’t be google’s bitch….but it’s cool to be twitter and facebook’s bitch? google is my favorite slavemaster, as i believe they are the most benevolent. i’m confident twitter and facebook will take your pie more than google will.there are countless ways to do SEO. some rely on acquiring quality links that can weave you into the fabric of the web. ultimate example: wikipedia.not mentioned on the list: youtube, business is driven primarily by youtube, blogging, and SEO, so i’m biased and a big believer here. i agree with the risk of being dependent on a single source, but that is always a painful risk for startups: too dependent on a single customer, on a single employee, on a single marketing source, etc. gotta start somewhere.eventually the developers are going to wake up and realize they are getting played. these platforms are not designed with governance in mind and this will be the primary cause of their demise. i agree about the immense potential in building a developer community, but platform governance is a major caveat.

    1. falicon

      All these platforms are a great place to play with product ideas and build quick hacks…maybe gain a little attention…but, yes, trying to build a real business on the backs of any of these platforms on their own is HARD and SCARY stuff for sure (with insanely small rate of success)….and this goes beyond the Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare platforms…the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android worlds are just as rocky a landscape to find ‘true business’ success in right now…I think what we are really witnessing is the shift in startup mentality…it’s still jut as hard as ever to build a business…but it’s a lot easier these days, with these platforms, to build stuff in general…and that means it’s easier to play…and so the new ‘success’ seems to be mostly coming from those things that were just people playing around with an idea and somewhat backed into a ‘real business’…It isn’t nec. a bad thing…but it def. is a different thing…

      1. kidmercury

        yes, great points that i had not considered before, i agree with what you are saying…..i do think if platforms want to get serious about building an economically sustainable ecosystem they will need to bring the monetization engine (which facebook might be able to do via facebook credits, and the concept of virtual banking in general) or they will invest in funds that formalize the business relationship between platform and developer, perhaps giving the platform the right to acquire the developer. i think ycombinator’s relationship with facebook may be leading the way here.

      2. fredwilson

        so truethere is a great post in here

    2. fredwilson

      dont’ be a facebook or twitter bitch eitherwe have a facebook bitch in our portfolioit makes me uncomfortable

  60. Guest

    Fred I like number 8 of your suggested channels. I have produced 500 DVD for fun and people spread the word because it made them laugh to death. Now every target audience knows the movie without me spending a single penny on advertisement. Every great innovation speaks for itself right…I have written a similar article about this issue:”Most successful companies start with a highly innovative idea and get stuck with their expired product and focus only on selling their offerings to consumers through persuasion – a.k.a. advertising.” –…Thank you for the great Post!

  61. Dale Allyn

    Seems like semantics cause a bit of a ruffle (marketing vs. advertising vs. promotion vs…), but some comments are off-base IMHO. Fred’s not wrong here in concept (while the wording can be argued). He’s not said that teams should not promote the company–quite the opposite. He’s said that he doesn’t want to see line-item spending on advertising campaigns for business models in which he’s interested.Fred is anything but “myopic” or “stupid”. The post has been up just four hours and there are 117 comments, and truly meaningful content in both the post and the comment thread. Yep, dumb like a fox. 😉

  62. reece

    If we can distill what Fred has said to one thing, I think it comes down to “brand.” (Maybe Mike Duda wants to chime in here to correct me?)The strategies he lays out ARE marketing techniques, but they:1. Go with the grain of the customers (see @Bryce’s post about this). They’re not attention “stealers,” they’re things that users are already doing, reading, playing with and they fall into their workflow.2. Having a strong “brand” or voice must permeate through every faction of your product, company and vision. from the way your product animates a transition, to the way your team speaks about the product on their blogs. Look at the ‘complete’ brands. Whole Foods is a great example – the voice carries through every detail. that’s part of your marketing and it’s built into the product.It’s too funny, I literally just wrote a post about this last night as my company makes a transition from one product to the next. – curious though how you look at a budget for events in an early stage startup? SXSW is expensive and launching there does cost $$ – though Foursquare brilliantly kept it cheap by playing four-square, I’m sure their parties are a different story.

    1. awaldstein

      Great comment.Brands get built over time. Very early companies usually lead with vision, attract their early market and the brand iterates on itself. I think thats why we are attracted to passionate visionary entrepreneurs and give their products a try without a lot of push. That vision and passion invites us in to participate.One of my favorite brands to point to is Lululemon. Not much online, but they really know who they are and have captured the power of local in every city they operate in.

      1. reece

        Funny you should point out Lulu. My sister is one of their ambassadors.I know she is LEGIT in the yoga community, thus I trust Lulu as a brand.Further, their products are awesome.

        1. awaldstein

          One of the smartest brands out there.-For urban gear they own what Patagonia pioneered.-For workout stuff, they are figuring out how to cross over from yoga to the gym without diluting the focus.-They took a page out of Nordstrom’s book on customer service and returns.-And most important, staff is smart. Sure ‘happy’ but just smart as well. Lots of folks work there cause they love it but do other things.Will be interesting to see if they can figure out online.

          1. Melissa Tran

            I recently read that Nordstrom’s mission statement is “Good judgment in all things”. I’d never heard that before but won’t forget it because it rang true to my own experience… they’ve become my point of reference when I think about what it means to develop a “brand”… it’s not so much what you say or even do as much as what you really are, at the core. Love your characterization of Lulu – for a while I thought it was just my friends but I can’t believe how often I overhear someone on a plane or in a store ask for/reference them now…and I honestly can’t recall ever seeing an ad…

          2. awaldstein

            I don’t think they advertise.It’s very much a referral based type outreach. They do a lot of unique things of course….yoga classes for people new to town, people doing yoga in the windows and even on the street outside the stores.Nordstrom comment is right on.Thanks

  63. im2b_dl

    & if I am not wrong, correct me if I am… You are saying early on “the pie” of $… it is about the workings and customer service of your product being quality. The “interfacable” product aspects that are inherently strengthening and the foundation for “growth and spread” in a budget of making the product better 1st. Marketing and advertising proponents (& those on that payroll) often do not see that with interface products in a society moving as fast as this is now…marketing should be led by the path that “making a product work better” blazes. Thus early $ should be spent on quality of the workings … not the spinning of how they work.Solving people’s needs (emotional, utility, appetite) better… trumps telling them that you will solve their needs in a world where search and referral are based quickly on quality of emotion, appetite & utility. No matter what tribes may have been created they are only as good for purchase instigation and referral as the product’s last user’s experience.We saw this a bit in indie film and network television over the last decade and a half. Marketers talked about marketing before quality of film and development of quality in a show. Festivals and the industry became about growing an audience and the scale of publicity. …What happened?.. the audiences disappeared when cheaper less known products with smaller marketing budgets but got the “need cessation” were slowly discovered (with very small marketing budgets). Now those big $-scaled companies/shows who scaled solely based on an ever increasing burden of increased marketing budgets “being necessary” are scrambling to redo their marketing budgets …in many cases throwing even more money at marketing. Because when you take a significant piece of the pie for marketing without getting an initial product built that incredibly satiates that appetite, utility and emotion the audience is looking for… .well… it’s like saying “we can’t just repaint the house to fix it… we have to go back and replace the foundation because we put aside a significant amount of our limited resources on real estate marketing before it was built, permits were finished and while going for a cheaper cement mix in budgeting, hoping we wouldn’t have to fix it.”

    1. awaldstein

      The thought that marketing is spin and that marketers are hired guns to bridge the gap between product and market is a problematic way to think about this in my opinion.Today more than ever, how you distribute and market a product needs to be integral to the product itself. In alot of ways the product will define its market approach. The more this is an afterthought the more it feels like push and spin.

      1. im2b_dl

        Not an afterthought. Just not the priority expense ahead of getting the product right with limited resources. The problem is and has always been that markets inherently make salespeople say they need more money to sell the product when in all actuality a better product is 10x a better sales tactic. With limited funds …people need to get the product right first. . Fred is showing that, seen that, and preaching that. So have I.

        1. awaldstein

          Got it.Having an advisor or friend of the company is great to instill some market thinking early in the process.


    I would agree with you in some respects, but a google adwords provides many benefits to a startup. First, they can develop agile like and make a product with a small trickle of customers until they refine it to the point where people stick around and their user base starts to grow. Launching an initial startup with no iteration behind it straight onto techcrunch is a fatal mistake.After the initial launch, google adwords provides the random expansion of the growth algorithm and can significantly improve your overall growth curve in the long term (starting many exponential curves each of which grow in their own sub-markets)Therefore I do believe that advertising is worth the investment to a startup in the foundation stages and it does not cost a lot of money.

  65. RacerRick

    There is one kind of advertising that should be acceptable for startups and that’s search advertising (ie Adwords).If you’re new, you won’t be up top of Google for your keywords. So it helps to buy that placement until your SEO cranks in.Also the Facebook ads that promote your service to friends of friends can be very helpful for getting the word out.

  66. William Mougayar

    I guess Fred won’t be doing Marketing Fridays 🙂 ouch…

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Shoot! This is FUN!

      1. William Mougayar

        For him or us?

    2. awaldstein

      I knew this one was going to go wild when it hit the top of the ‘liked’ list yesterday.

      1. William Mougayar

        Lol. Wild it did. But there’s a lot of good stuff, as usual.Everything that matters in marketing is coming out, right here.

        1. fredwilson

          the sand creates the pearla badly flawed post with semantic fail can still create a super rich and valuable disqussion

  67. theschnaz

    “Early in a startup you need to acquire your customers for free. Later on, you can spend on customer acquisition.”I don’t agree with that. The important word here is “early” and every startup is different.Twitter, a company with no revenue model at the beginning should not have spent money to acquire users.Groupon and Square have clear revenue models, which allows them to spend money to acquire users much sooner in their startup lives than Twitter.Again, the key is “early.” If you have a revenue model baked into your company, then you can pay to acquire users much earlier than a free service.

  68. Keith Teare

    Fred, this nails it for me…..Awesome summary. I don’t agree with those who want to replace marketing with advertising. The starting proposition was – startups should not have marketing budgets, not that they should not have marketing…. Marketing is core to any startup, it is HOW you get your adoption. But marketing now takes the forms Fred mentioned.I do think marketing starts with the product. Does it fit the users you are targeting? Do they love it. Is it better than all the alternatives at nailing the users needs/desires? Can they dump other things they do and use it to accomplish existing tasks? Will they want to?This marketing happens before a user has even seen the product. Its close to sociology and cognitive science and psychology as a discipline. Not to forget art and design. Get this wrong and Fred’s other advice won’t save you…Get it right, and you still have to excel at the other stuff.

  69. Jason Devitt

    Fred, most of the companies in your portfolio were started by great, instinctive marketers who surrounded themselves with great engineers.Jason

    1. fredwilson

      so true Jasoni guess that’s what we look for in an entrepreneurthat in and of itself should be useful to the marketplace

  70. saidulislam

    I disagree with the first paragraph. The list here is not something earth shattering but I agree with the list. It would have even better if you had talked about how to execute each item in your list effectively.

  71. Len Feldman

    Fred, all of the things that you recommended ARE marketing–they’re just free (or low cost), or integrated into the product itself. The historical five P’s of marketing are Product, Price, Place, Product and Promotion. My argument is that marketing needs to be integrated into the mindset of every startup. We both know companies that thought the world would beat a path to their door because they had built a better mousetrap. You can have an amazing product or service, but if no one knows it’s there, it will fail.In short, you’re arguing FOR marketing, not against it, so long as it’s integrated into everything the startup does, not called out as a separate budget item.

    1. fredwilson


  72. janetaronica

    So I actually agree with you re: the PR agency piece. I think there are a lot of early stage companies that pour seed and angel funding into agencies before they and their product is ready. But your first two parts, re: Twitter & Social hooks, that to me speaks to leveraging your community around your product. I think at some point you need an employee who knows how to leverage said community, identify advocates and make the most of these social channels. Community manager = employee #3? Why not? It doesn’t mean your product sucks and it couldn’t market itself, it just means that you are having your community market for you and you are getting someone who knows how to make that process happen most efficiently.

    1. fredwilson

      yes!!! that should be your first non product/eng hire

  73. howardlindzon

    Building a great product for a big market solves a lot of problems :)I am hearing from my retweet that you should write about the ‘platform risks’ and the timing of moving on and off platforms…in fact I will as well.thx Fred and this great community

  74. Tereza

    Curious what you think about names and branding….?

    1. fredwilson

      critical. super important. we helped foursquare and delicious get and in connection with our initial investments

      1. Tereza

        I heard they did that with, too. Expensive domains = tough on a shoestring.

        1. fredwilson

          yup, that is why neither company had them. we bought them with the fundingmoney.

  75. Marcelo Calbucci

    Phenomenal post.I wrote a blog post with some thoughts (and rebuttal) to some of things you said…

    1. fredwilson

      i read your post yesterday. thanks for doing that Marcelo

  76. Steve Poppe

    For start-ups I like to think of marketing as a discipline focused on the product, direction and organization – especially message organization. Gut feelings yes, but supported by data. Disorganized tech start-ups go down faster than a Sears radial. Speaking of Sears, when rural commerce revolved around the Sears catalog it was the channel. It didn’t require special marketing support. That was the situation for Zynga early on at Facebook. Different story today.But I do agree with many of your sentiments Fred. Today, people who spend all day talking about ROI aren’t getting any. To your point don’t have the product to do so.

  77. Don

    I cant get past the idea that “Marketing is for companies who have sucky products”. If you have a “sucky” product its not marketable on any of the mediums you mentioned. Your seven tips are basically the standard playbook for online promotion…that ALL startups need.

  78. Rebecca Levey

    As a blogger often on the receiving end of a PR company trying to buy an “authentic” community it’s interesting to me to read the conflicting comments between marketers/PR/ad sales factions. When I was a copywriter for a large television network we would spend months and millions of dollars planning the giant launch campaigns for Fall TV premieres, but the mantra around the office was always – we can drive viewers to the pilot but if its sucks they’ll never come back. That is even more true now online where attention spans are short and choices are endless. It’s always about the product and the user experience.I think the best piece of advice I take away from this post is to launch in the community you know and are already invested in. I consider myself fortunate to be a part of an incredibly diverse and vibrant mom blogging world – one that unfortunately gets targeted and coveted in all sorts of badly executed ways – but still one I can depend on to get word out about my new venture in an authentic way – with genuine enthusiasm, fabulous twitter reach and built in sharetastic audience.

  79. ruchitgarg

    Naveen & Dennis doing photoshoots..thats marketing as well. Maybe it was cheaper than buying adwords.I believe as an entrepreneur, one should explore all marketing medium, with low investments to start with and compare ROIs. You will eventually find right mix and channel for marketing.

  80. Lucas Wilk

    Somebody once that that great marketing only makes bad products fail faster.

  81. LECHSAM group

    One for the great book of quotes: “Don’t be a google bitch” Love it Fred!

    1. Donna Brewington White

      “Don’t be a google bitch”Thanks for pulling out that pearl. It kinda got lost in the fray but what a gem!



  83. paramendra

    Sir, sent you an email.

  84. JordanCooper_NYC

    wow…weird…almost identical to my talk at Viral meetup on Wednesday…but I went even further. forget about paying for traffic in early days, but I also said forget about trying to induce virality in early days. your last point about making the product not suck was my entire point. I talked about the idea of “gift virality” which I’ll define as “users perpetuating your product out of affection to the recipient.” If I think about why I share Groupme, it’s not because I’m unlocking a new feature by hitting Fbook like, or even saying something about myself, by displaying my usage. I pass groupme along because it’s a gift i can give to friends that doesn’t cost me anything. Too many viral mechanics focus on rewarding or incentivizing spread before the product has become awesome enough that it is a “gift.” That type of inducement is non-replicable and short term. Rather than chasing the techcrunch company that got 1 million users in 48 hours, especially for early stage companies that are resource constrained, I would argue that early teams should spend all their attention turning their product into a gift. Once that’s achieved, all of the mechanics which you very clearly and helpfully outline are known science. Too many consumer internet apps chase growth before their product is awesome. It’s important to have users and data to make a product better, but optimizing for spread before your product is a “gift” (especially for utility based products) is a distraction and inefficient use of internal bandwidth. Paying for growth is an amplification of that mistake. Both induced viral mechanics and early paid acquisition are band-aids that artificially inflate but do not solve the problem of distribution. Great post Fred, one of my favorites you’ve ever written

    1. fredwilson

      i read your post yesterday. nicely done.

    2. sigmaalgebra

      Thanks.Will make sure my fire is ready to burn before wasting a lot on matches!

  85. Spencer Fry

    My favorite style of marketing is when your users market your app for you. NOT in the way you might think (not through referral programs, emailing friends, etc.) rather that they’re encouraged to share their profile, page, website, etc., because it will benefit them directly. In turn it benefits you, but it starts with benefiting them.What’s an example? KickStarter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, etc., are all examples of this. Another is Carbonmade. Artists must share their portfolio (e.g. http://colerise.carbonmade…. with their friends, recruiters, etc., to get benefit from it and in turn those friends (usually other artists) see the Carbonmade link at the bottom of the portfolio, click it, and can then sign up for their own. It sets off a viral chain.Side note: We’re seeing nearly as many referrals from Facebook as we are from Google, because people are sharing their portfolios on Facebook as their homepage. Screenshot:… And look at StumbleUpon’s comeback!

  86. maxniederhofer

    When I was in VC, I liked when people knew what the prevailing customer acquisition costs were in their industry. Shows that they’d done their homework and were thinking about the potential unit economics of the business at scale.Agree that presenting a big marketing budget in use of funds or projections in context of a Series A is a big no-no.

  87. Alberto D'Ottavi

    Uberlike, thanks for this. I’d summarize saying that the logic here is to mantain focus on building product/users from the center to the periphery, instead of pouring money on the outside. I think this is a very difficult gymnastic to do, but helps in building value. Or, at least, I hope 🙂

  88. thewalrus

    i’ll drink this koolaid all day. great post. my favorite in a long time.

  89. Allen Burt

    Fred,What’s your take on $$ incentives to increase social sharing (or as you say ‘social hooks)? i.e. Gilt Groupe’s $25 incentive to invite new friends to join.Although a customer acquisition expense, it seems vital to the growth of their user/customer base.

    1. fredwilson

      it’s a tactic more than a strategyit works

  90. JLM

    I agree with Fred more than Fred agrees with himself. I disagree completely with Fred.The issue is semantics.Marketing is the 4 Ps — product, price, placement, promotion.Almost everything Fred describes as an alternative to “marketing” is, in fact, marketing. When Twitter focuses on its logo, that is marketing.One cannot develop a product without defining it. Marketing.One cannot develop a product without defining the market for the product itself. Marketing.One cannot develop a product without defining how it is going to be distributed. Marketing.One cannot develop a product without pricing it. Marketing.If you are thinking about any business endeavor without taking the time to understand the unique selling advantage/propositions, without conducting a focus group on a prototype or without plumbing the depth of the consumer pool — then you are just playing at it.This is essence of business. This is marketing.When Fred Wilson cloaks his comments in the splendor of his blog — Fred is exhibiting marketing genius.Every single minute of every day, businesses are engaged in marketing.Industrial design decisions made by folks like Apple are market and marketing driven.

    1. @billg

      You nailed it….marketing is what makes the world spin….now matter what you call it (or how you spin it). BTW, “SIVA” is a slightly updated name for the “4 P’s”.Product → SolutionPrice → ValuePlace → AccessPromotion → Information

      1. JLM

        Unfortunately, I have not been updated and got my MBA long before most folks on this blog were a gleam in their Daddy’s eye.But the game is still the same!And, it’s called marketing!

        1. awaldstein

          Yup…building community on a BBS system for Atari game fanatics was community through and through. Without email. Without the web. But lots of passion and community. And a massive channel for communications.

          1. andyidsinga

            Right on!hey remember fido net? ….and the ginormous nodelist 🙂

          2. awaldstein

            Yup!Passion and enthusiasm transcends the primitive nature of the tools.What a community this was.

    2. Dave Pinsen

      “When Twitter focuses on its logo, that is marketing.When Fred hyperlinks Arnold’s name to Arnold’s Twitter profile (instead of, say, his personal blog), that is marketing for Twitter too.

      1. Peter Beddows

        Well called Dave.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        Good on you, mate.

      3. RichardF

        +1….Fred is a consummate marketeer.Whether or not it was intentional, I find this post and the fallout very amusing.

      4. fredwilson

        man, you are so on to meit is scary how perceptive you are to my tactics

    3. Peter Beddows

      Right on JLM: Exactly what I said in one of my own comments here.

    4. Dave W Baldwin

      Wouldn’t you say that Fred is simply implying, “Don’t put the cart before the horse?” It comes down to developing something that is marketable and then develop it.Fred probably gets a lot of talk about marketing an idea before you have something in your hands to truly inspect.

    5. fredwilson

      this should be my follow up post todayyou nailed it

    6. sigmaalgebra

      Best clarity on meaning and execution of ‘marketing’ on this thread.

    7. Nate Boyd

      According to this definition of marketing, I’m left wondering what is NOT marketing?My biggest takeaway from this discussion thread is a reminder that vague and over-loaded words like “marketing” often lead to needless confusion and debate. So much so that it’s not clear to me what this community really agrees on versus what they really disagree about.I certainly don’t think that product design/definition or profiling target users is a “marketing” activity. I don’t even normally consider target market research/definition or customer development to be “marketing” activities. When someone says “marketing” I think of OUTBOUND activities taken to inform/influence (potential) customers and influencers about your product and brand and incent them to take an action that will benefit you.The viral hooks that are so important to launching products/companies today are really just a reflection of how the best products and ideas have always spread, we can just accelerate the process with technology and really frickin’ big social graphs. No magic here. So, if we can get the word out for free, why shouldn’t we rather than paying someone a lot to do so?Every company should definitely give a lot of thought to what kind of DNA they should have. I agree that consumer web/mobile companies benefit from having social marketing DNA in the founding team.

  91. timcohn

    So should the social hoooks be extra large?

  92. Frank Smythe

    Spot on Seth!!

  93. davidjlb

    Here’s my thoughts on this on the quora topic about it

  94. TinyVox

    Celebrities using it. Why I’m launching tinyvox out of Hollywood. “catch a free distribution wave” is a great concept!!! Hence soundcloud API. Typing on iPhone sucks compared to talking it out, hence this stilted text to illuminate a clear usage need – I should’ve talked this out instead.Marketing is like butter. Don’t overdo it. But a little bit is good to make sure you don’t burn.Who said “painkillers not vitamins”? That is the insight of the year. Was that you ?

  95. hseibel

    What is there to argue about? A company should spend money on advertising if it thinks it will generate an acceptable return. If it isn’t sure, it should test it.

  96. $1331601

    Social media, events, PR, search, viral promotions? Interesting…those are all functions of marketing.It’s always tempting to think you can do someone else’s job well, especially when the job doesn’t require skills that only come through education. Some of you can! Most of you can’t. As a marketer, I can fake my way through most product management activities. I know photoshop too…why should I ever hire a designer? Heck, I can even do a little accounting. But where I really deliver is in marketing.So *should* I be doing all of the other things? Is it the best use of my time?My point is that marketing is another activity that makes any start-up successful. To list out a bunch of marketing stuff on a “to-do” list and then claim a start-up doesn’t need marketing is paradoxical to me. You may not need dedicated staff or fancy agencies at the onset (though you may depending on market conditions), but watch your resources and make sure they are being spent wisely. If your product is being ignored because your technical co-founder is on the party and event circuit and spending his days tweeting, you may want to think twice.

  97. Charlie McHenry

    Huh? You’ve got to be kidding. Right? Competition is already fierce, with franchise players blanketing their market spaces with noise. Clever marketing, and data-driven advertising are key to the success of independents. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. Naturally great product & a sound vision are building blocks, but getting the word out through thoughtful product promotion can’t be ignored.

  98. Eric Brooke

    Brilliant, a debate..I think you have covered a stage in a start-ups growth e.g. post F&F maybe post Angel.. and platform builtGetting funding to build a platform is a lot of marketing e.g. build a great pitch deck, a brand/logo, website, convincing advisors, friends & family and angels onboard.. Endless coffee meetings.. That is a lot of time and is time not really money? But it is all storytelling/marketing/promotion.I agree that great products and services early stage should focus on freeish customer acquisition. Freeish because one of the team has to do it..1)most people still do not read all the tweets2) Agreed, facebook can be very powerful3)☺4)Events do cost money- flights/accom (even if couch surfer)5)Could not agree more on PR6)Organic search can be very powerful7)Yes8)Agreed on paid marketing/advertsing

  99. RichardF

    “Marketing is for companies who have sucky products”……….that sparked the conversation.

  100. Jon Winebrenner

    I wonder if what Fred is reacting to in his post is that Marketing, or those who provide the service of Marketing, tend to over reach the importance of their role. As in, “without Marketing your product will fail”.The bigger discussion, as opposed to what a Start-up needs to do for Marketing, it is how Marketing fits and helps shape the product’s voice, vision, and scope. Now, my take on Fred’s post is that you don’t need to be hiring someone to do this yourself. You don’t need a full time Marketing person to do so, you can hire a short term consultant to help you hone the message, maybe help you gain a better grasp of what tasks you need to execute on the vision. But, at the end of the day, the Marketing of your product is getting it out in front of people….who better to do that than the Founder(s)?The Founder(s) and their salary should be part of that budget already. Travel, going to live events (travel), and that level of networking should be factored into the budget of the start-up…or I would imagine it needs to be. So, it is that part of it that doesn’t seem to connect with me in this post.

    1. fredwilson

      your first paragraph is very perceptive

  101. WonderousRobot

    The thesis statement is earn influence, don’t go out and try to buy it.

  102. Aaron Salis

    I find it funny how much of this comment thread is arguing about semantics of the word “marketing”.Twitter, PR, events, specific social hooks/features—these things all cost time/money. If that doesn’t come out of a “marketing budget”, what does it come out of? Who’s going to do it?I don’t think anyone would disagree with the statement, “Shitty products try to cover up their garbage with paid advertising.” Probably not the best use of capital, but sometimes it works. However, the idea that going to SXSW is somehow a better use of capital than spending money on paid advertising seems like an odd statement to make. Events cost a lot of money and take a lot of planning to do well. That’s money that might be better spent in other ways—possibly even paid advertising. It depends on the company, the goals, and the model.

  103. ChantalJanssen

    The custard has hit the fan, so much for bloggers block, now you need to block the bloggers :)I believe a startup is born dead without a marketing budget. The reality is that nothing is free and nobody is going to do you any favours.I do however think that you have to be smart about it, social hooks are the obvious way forward but at some point you have to pay to be seen and heard.

  104. John Furrier

    Nice post Fred. However you’re a bit confused on what marketing is. That being said very good and generally agree… fyi as you know – at the beginning all zynga did was marketing (buying installs and distribution on fb).Key point to extract out of your post is that for free consumer products is “critical mass” point. How you get there is key and good product is the “table stakes”.

  105. Robert Einspruch

    If LTVC > CAC then spend money on marketing. That is true on Day 1 or Day 1000. If LTVC < CAC then get creative using the aforementioned points. Pretty simple if you ask me.

  106. falicon

    OK – I am now convinced that I don’t just need to build a priority inbox for social media (ie. the long term vision of what we doing with – shameless plug I know)…I need to build a priority inbox just for AVC and all the awesome comments (as much as I really want to, no way I can read all the great conversations you initiate everyday…gotta find a simple way to grep the best of it when I don’t have that time [and dig into the meat when I *do* have the time])…anyway – another awesome post made even more awesome by the community comments…thank you!

  107. William Mougayar

    Erick Schonfeld is chiming on Fred’s now famous quote “Marketing is for companies who have sucky products”…

    1. fredwilson

      a lot of people piled on yesterday

  108. Many Hats Marketing

    I completely agree that big marketing spends on advertising, PR, hosting parties, etc. is not what startups should be doing, but this is a very narrow definition of Marketing.At its core, Marketing is defining how you are going to talk about your product/company. What benefits does the product deliver? What are the key competitive differentiators? Who is the target market?After that, Marketing is ensuring that what we say about the product is actually what the product is and also that what the target market needs/wants is actually what the product does/ how the product works (this is usually defined as product marketing).And then, Marketing is making sure that the target market is aware of and connects to the product so they will buy it/use it.None of these have to be big spends, but it is not an inherent founder skill to know how to do this marketing. Founders come from varied backgrounds with varied skills. What founders need to do is recognize the critical skills and execution that they need and make sure they have it at the right time. If the necessary skills are ones the founders have, excellent. If not, then they need to acquire them somehow, either through bringing in another founder, hiring or outsourcing.It would be ludicrous to say that founders should know how to code and build hardware prototypes if those are not in their background. It is just as ludicrous to say that they should know how to choose the right target market, translate market needs into product features and present their product in the way that captures the target market. These are skills that have an innate, a knowledge and an experience component and require a professional to do them right.

  109. Victor

    Some suggestions for refining this argument:RE>not one of our top performing companies had a marketing budget in their initial business plan.There’s survivorship bias there. It would be more insightful to look at all of your companies, not just the top ones, and what their marketing budget was. Did those at the bottom also have no marketing budget?It might be even more insightful to look at winners and losers in a category and their marketing efforts. For example, I’ve been researching the history of recently and was surprised at how traditional their approach was. Even before launch they hired a CMO away from Intuit. They hired a PR firm. They did quant-based marketing to model their conversion. They managed to get a link on the front page of Yahoo which resulted in their biggest one-day acquisition.Of course Mint had a kick-ass product as well. In their case they had strong competition, a race in a new market to build critical mass, and they could raise enough money for both a great product and great marketing. At least in this particular situation marketing at the beginning seems wise.Refs:

  110. Joe Montgomery

    This is anecdotal but I had heard Groupon traffic was 60% WoM vs. 40% paid advertising (Facebook) around the six-to-eight month mark, post launch.Even if that stat was more like 90/10, would they have been the fastest company to a billion dollar valuation without “marketing” (with the main marketing tool being built into their model approach) fueling WoM and some dirty, old fashioned “advertising”?Had they already broken out of your definition of “early” stage start-up, at that point? How do you define that?Thank you & goodnight.

  111. Loic Le Meur

    I launched LeWeb without any advertising (agree on Seth’s point advertising <> marketing) and it gathered 3,000 people from 60 countries last year.All your points are great, love them, I would add word of mouth and how it’s fueled. For example, there has been a controversy almost every year at LeWeb and that has sparked word of mouth that grew our community, people talking about the event is good, even if they disagree on stuff you did. Like having Mike Arrington telling all europeans are lazy on stage, or inviting politicians which I regretted and thought I should have never done actually helped the event as long as it’s done with moderation.

    1. fredwilson

      or writing a post that basically says “marketing sucks” 😉

      1. Loic Le Meur

        exactly 🙂

  112. paul robinett

    I think Fred must have watched my video on YouTube called “The future of share is in our hands”. I’m honored.

  113. Drew Patterson

    Writing a controversial post that generates hundreds of comments, that’s marketing.

  114. Scott Kraft

    Hey Fred,Not wanting to pile on (the guide is actually spot on) but marketing is the entire function from distribution to sales and service. To state the obvious, I can’t buy or use something that isn’t readily available or I haven’t heard of. This is why all startups should focus most of their marketing efforts on those two things – and do them using free platforms as you point out.Instead of getting down on the marketers, implore them to think differently and get more entrepreneurs to think like great marketers. Sheesh.

    1. fredwilson

      this post was a semantic fail

  115. ericbieller

    You’ve helped open my eyes even wider to the fact that marketing is practically useless for early stage start-ups.. great article..

  116. im2b_dl

    Fred can we just say… it is amazing how marketers, PR and ad agencies come out like crazy when they think the Washingtons may slow down in this over marketed brainwashing we have had in the past three years from all the “gurus”

  117. Rich LeFurgy

    Wow. Fred nicely articulated the current world view from VC’s across the land. Not that it’s right.Let me explain. VC’s got burned during the last bubble because they tried to be mad men and spend their way to growing their business on misguided TV campaigns. Ad agencies were happy to spend the startco’s money and execute the campaigns, which were horrible. There’s an old saying on madison avenue that clients get the advertising they deserve. The campaigns didn’t work because the advertising itself didn’t.Startups learned not to include a marketing/advertising line items because VC’s hate them. Plus lots of startups are staffed with people who don’t know the first thing about marketing or advertising. I wish I could have gotten a $1 every time I’ve heard–“we don’t need to advertise because Yahoo and Google (+ Twitter and Facebook) didn’t and look how big they are.” Fred’s experience resonates with that because he has invested in many great companies that catch on like wildfire, but i think it would be a mistake to say that startups shouldn’t have a marketing budget. Not every company is going to be Google or Zygna. Only startups that know what to do with marketing and advertising budgets should have them, and they should be able to demonstrate what they are going to do and how the math works.I do agree with Fred that startups should leverage social, be smart about events, get into the buzz of entry communities and that companies should build PR resources in-house rather than outsourcing to PR firms that want $10,000 to turn on the lights every month. And that search is important but it’s important to not chase it. And that a product should be great. But i don’t agree that marketing and advertising have no place with good products. They don’t have a place with bad products–hence the old saying that the best way to kill a bad product is advertising.Oh, and what about the $30 billion online advertising industry that many of the startups (Google, Zygna, fb, etc.) are trying to either leverage or monetize. We need to eat our own cooking, and do it better if we need to. Yes, online advertising does work, even though many may not think it does. They may hate having advertising, hate the way ads look and clutter up the page, but more and more money is being spent online every year because marketers are seeing it work through research and plain old ROI.Marketing and advertising budgets rightfully belong to startups, and their backers, that know how to use them.

    1. fredwilson

      spot on critique Rich

  118. knowledgenotebook

    #3) Find entry points is the Best!Emotional Intelligence plays out here…

  119. MathewL

    Have to agree with Rich. At the last start-up where I took over marketing and product management, the first thing I did was try to kill a series of ads my predecessor had bought when we didn’t have a product that solved a customer problem. No amount of ads can fix that (sadly, in an effort to “save money” we’d prepaid so it was sunk cost).Then, I had to endure almost daily visits from the Associate from one of our VC firms telling me I wasn’t spending enough on promoting the product. This was someone who was a year or two out of MBA school and with no marketing or product experience.We get the VCs we deserve, I believe. I’d never take money from them in a new venture.

    1. fredwilson

      you know i said that exact thing the other day”we get the VCs we deserve”and”we get the entrepreneurs we deserve”

  120. Steve Somoza

    I don’t believe this is the path Netflix has followed.

  121. Moshref

    Identify market problem, key for any new product, or company!!moshref

  122. Dirk Sorenson

    I am with Seth – the idea that marketing is isolated to talking and not listening to customers/consumers rankles me.

  123. RJ Johnston

    This comment is my marketing, any questions?

  124. Lou Covey

    I have already seen three high tech industries go through this cycle of ego-driven arrogance, just before the bubble burst and it’s happening again, unless someone stands up and calls. “Total bull****!”This reasoning is what causes most startups to fail and sends investment funds into premature dirt naps. Any company with a mediocre product and a solid marketing will beat a competing company with a good product and mediocre marketing. This may not be the case in the nascent period of an industry, but social media has crested the the adoption curve and is heading into the long tail. The market now is filled with jaded people, even those who are heavy SM adopters, who need to be convinced to use a product. Anyone who thinks that the pattern of success of the early entries into the market can be repeated is living in a dream world and deserves the failure he is soon to experience.Real marketing is a conversation. It requires real analytics and proper interpretation of the numbers. After that it takes hard work to create a flow of information acceptable to the audience. It necessitates the abandonment of ego because if you do it right, you will see the same flaws your customer sees and you’ll be able to fix it and save the company.There was a time that entrepreneurs could approach a VC before he needed marketing and get the help he needed. But today’s VCs are so caught up with their past success that they think they are above marketing and so is everyone else. But why do you think so many VC funds are abject failures right now? It’s because none of them really understand the market. They barely understand what made them successful in the first place.There are a few investors out there that are not like that, but damn few.Of course, what you are describing is not marketing or even customer acquisition, which shows you don’t understand the concept. What you have described is sales and publicity. Not marketing.

  125. RAY

    “I’m in marketing”Translation: I have no skills

  126. Mitchell

    As an entrepreneur, this ivory tower VC perspective is so frustrating. I think this post is borderline irresponsible and what I mean by that is the biggest issue with early stage start-ups is that they lack and customer acquisition strategy to get to critical mass. VC’s in the ivory tower sit up there and see traction but never question what might have driven it. E.g. spamming Facebook in the early days allowed Zynga to grow its base or buying up cheap FB self serve traffic enabled many successful social dating sites.Sure, if we look at just “phenomenons” we can say they blew up with no marketing. But what about all the successful companies that didn’t have the luck of mass media coverage? This post is basically saying “roll the dice and hope people hear about you because your product is so kick ass” but come on, there’s a ton of kick ass products that could have been great companies if a marketeer was on board.I get the point, product is the pillar but most entrepreneurs are product focused, we don’t need a VC to tell us to focus on that. However, look at 95% of Ycombinator / TC Disrupt companies – great ideas, tech focused, never get the critical mass needed. What young entrepreneurs really need is someone telling them to think more about customer acquisition and if you’ve got a great idea, make sure you don’t think “just put it out there and the world will come.” Be prepared to spend some money to get to critical mass if they don’t get the lucky coverage 3/1000 companies get.A much more grounded and pragmatic post on real businesses vs phenomenons posted by Jeremy @ Lightspeed way back but influenced many entrepreneurs I know to focus on elements of the business many ignore:

  127. guest

    Fred, you got everything right – except the definition of “marketing”. A product cannot be successful without marketing. When an user talks to another use about the product – that’s marketing. When a user retweets about the product, that’s marketing. Every single product, whether consumer or enterprise, need “marketing” to be successful.I think what you meant – consumer web startups don’t need marketing headcount or to spend marketing dollars in order to be successful, which I think most agree.

  128. Greg12jam

    Wow, this shows how little VC’s know about the mechanics of the operations they invest in.I worked for two of the above companies used as example. Quick education – Myspace spammed like crazy, it’s umbrulla company was an email marketing company before a social network, Bebo same thing. many of the canspam regulations today a result of the abuse in this period.Zynga, are you kidding me? Facebook buried notifications and completely changed how it handles app notifications because of SPAM from companies like Zynga. More power to them for exploring early gaps, but don’t be disillusioned.Twitter, it blew up, but should we all really base our business plans on “we’re going to get lucky and end up on CNN and NYT dailly?” You think twitter had a great PR capability? Come on, the media took to it, the company sat back and enjoyed the ride.To me, I agree that product needs to be engaging, needs to be sticky, needs to be primary focus, but you’ve got to have a marketing plan “in case” you don’t get lucky.

    1. Mike Wallace

      Well written Greg and I totally agree with you! Fred’s post is written like someone who never ran a business.Just like a movie critic – writing, directing, acting and producing a movie is a piece of cake and it’s very easy to critique. But the devil is in the details and execution – success doesn’t magically happen!

      1. fredwilson

        as i said in a comment on this bog a few days ago, i could never run a business, not even a corner storei’m just telling everyone what i have seen work and what i have not seen work

  129. Dorian Benkoil

    I have a comment and a question: Comment is you could add a ninth bullet: Get an investor (like Fred Wilson) who will discuss — aka market — your product or service in the conversations he creates.Question is: Where do you draw the line in openness? How far do you go in opening the API or even open-sourcing what you do go gain adoption and spread the word? Where, if ever, is there room for protected intellectual property, not to mention how (as with Twitter) the community can become angry when openness is challenged.

    1. fredwilson

      i was talking about this with an entrepreneur yesterdayi think the best i can do is point you to my “filling holes” post from last summer

      1. Dorianbenkoil

        thanks, Fred. I see one on the Twitter platform’s “inflection point” with lots of references. (Like that word, inflection — My blog has “flect” for that and reflection.) Will read it.Also see that you came back to yoga. Congrats on that. it’s a great way to work toward healthy balance, in multiple senses. I suggest Yoga Today podcasts for when you’re on the road.

  130. angusdavis

    The insinuation that Flipboard’s successful launch occurred in spite of marketing, rather than as a direct result of it, is naive and wrong.”Behind every great man, is a better woman.” Her name is Marci McCue and she is awesome at marketing. No, strike that, she is probably the best outbound marketing and communications professional I have ever worked with or met!Dismissing great marketing is a dangerous false signal to entrepreneurs, many of whom trust your counsel because of, quite ironically, your own great marketing of yourself.

    1. RichardF

      love to know more about what they did Angus.

    2. fredwilson

      i really didn’t mean to insinuate that though i can see how you read it that way. i certainly didn’t say that flipboard didn’t do marketing. i said they didn’t need to do marketing.

  131. zerobeta

    Nice post Fred. One thing that struck me while reading it, and that you hinted at in your post is the disruptive nature of the social web in regards to marketing. Social services such as Twitter and Facebook have substantially lowered the cost of marketing for great products dramatically and we’re seeing the effects now in the recent surge of new, consumer web products. This effect should not be ignored.

  132. joeagliozzo

    “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”.I thought this was discredited a long time ago.The world has to find out about your mousetrap before they beat a path to your door.That’s marketing.

  133. Andrew

    Fred, you’re badass! Been reading your blog since the start. Your writing skills have improved 10 fold over the years. Keep up the good work.

    1. fredwilson

      malcolm gladwell says that i am over half way therei’ve done about 5300 posts to date

      1. andyidsinga

        i think that was 10k hours …not 10k posts 🙂

        1. fredwilson

          hmm. some posts take more than an hour. but i have done posts in 10-15 mins.maybe i’m not half way there

  134. Joseph Dwyer

    I think Fred is crazy like a fox. Look at all the activity on this page. Hell, he even got Seth Godin to comment.Hella good marketing….

  135. Michael

    (NB: I’m a late comer and most have directly addressed the subject of my comment. But I’ll add it anyway. So there!)Sayeth Pete Drucker, “The goal of marketing is to make sales superfluous.”Fred, you’ve just made the a priori case for how & why marketing is so misunderstood. This is a good thing. We need more people to return to a real dialogue. We need more people to read “Inside the Tornado” and to listen to people like Mohan Swahney. (And you need to. Right now. Seriously.)You’re directly, implicitly equating “marketing” to spending for customer acquisition — Super Bowl ads on down. This betrays a proper understanding of marketing. True, you’ll spend cash on people, regardless of whether they have “marketing” in their title, who have this in their DNA. But the thing I think you’re missing is that the power of marketing is hard-wired into the DNA of today’s technology.We’re living in a great chocolate + peanut butter moment. It’d be a shame to mistake it as something else.

    1. ScottDWitt

      Drucker also said:”Innovation and Marketing produce the results, everything else is an expense”( one of my favorite quotes )

  136. Mike Wallace

    Fred, why haven’t you responded? You have started a firestorm here and numerous technology blogs and you have not clarified or stood up for your beliefs. Was this simply a ploy?

    1. fredwilson

      nah, i had a full day yesterday. i read every comment on this blog and reply to many of them. but i also do have a day job.

  137. Pete Griffiths

    A ballsy post. Thank you.

  138. Dtbrown

    I have to agree with most of his points. Marketing instantly evokes a process of filling in product weaknesses with lingo and distraction. Eventually, these marketing manager personalities take over companies and the brands and products get lost in mediocrity.

  139. Anthony

    Curious how this applies to one of my earlier companies / products / inventions.I patented a product called CreditCovers : skins for credit cards ( They were well received with trendy types, celebs, and a range of demographics. We then started getting inbound inquiries from businesses because they were surprisingly devilish in starting organic word of mouth — something like 50 or 100 conversations were being started per unit in a few months, simply from friends and other folks asking about them when people were making purchased (dinner, drinks, coffee, lunch, etc). We had millions in earned media (just about every publication I can think of – NY Times, Entrepreneur, Fortune, DailyCandy) and our consumers were fanatical about the product.We started making them for the brands who were coming to us, and everyone has been super stoked. Our most recent run we had companies ranging from start-ups in the app space, to authors to Google.Problem is — we are ONLY getting business from word-of-mouth. We have this impressive client list, impressive results, and impressive media coverage, but I haven’t been able to crack the nut of money in < money out in terms of actively spending money on advertising / active marketing. I suppose that is the beauty of our product — the word of mouth it generates — but I’d love to be able to find other ways to get new clients on board, rather than just hearing about us, and finding on a google search.

  140. Michael Diamant

    Fred – so many great points here – and i’ve forwarded this to my exec team – but you are still talking mostly about advertising. Or promotion if you want to do the 4 Ps thing.My business does a solid mid 8 figs in revs and is a nationally known consumer brand and our “advertising” budget is near zero (although we sure do give a lot to our distribution partners for “support.”) But when it comes to the REAL meat and potatoes of marketing – planing and developing our full portfolio of products and extensions, planning distribution channels and MOST importantly for our success, figuring out pricing (in our case in an extraordinarily mature and unrelentingly competitive market), I’d say that our investment in being marketing-focused is what has made us such a solid player in our market. Yes, great products first, but that can’t live in a vacuum. Your disdain is understandable when talking about advertising – so many media salespeople are nothing but vultures going after that fresh VC money – but you’re giving marketing in its fullest sense the short shrift.

  141. Dennis Yu

    Totally agreed with SethGodin— advertising is the price you pay for having a crappy product. Marketing is telling your story, and whether you pay for ads or not, you still have marketing expense. If you send people to SXSW or have a hackathon– hey, that’s a MARKETING expense.

  142. Clyde Smith

    This is a great post full of excellent marketing tips! Hope I haven’t printed too much as I prepare to relaunch Flux Research: Online Business Models.Business Planning: Marketing Tips from Fred Wilson, A VC…Thanks, Fred. You’re the man!

  143. Jörg von Kirschbaum

    Marketing is not limited to advertising. After lashing out at advertising Fred Wilson gives a long list of other marketing tools. I also wouldn’t recommend to rely on Advertising for launching a company. But I do recommend to use all the tools you have at your hands, if they fit your strategy. I will not expand on marketing strategy and limit this response to marketing tactics. The 7P model gives a starting point for marketing tactics:ProductPricePlacePromotion (where advertising is a small part of)PeopleProofProcessesMore often than not, the best thing you can strive for, is to make people enthusiastically recommend your product. So it needs at least to be attractive, buzz-worthy, value-for-money, no-strings-attached and easy to recommend.Sorry for lecturing, but these misconceptions of marketing are what is behind most companies that fail.

  144. Volnado

    I look at this post with music in mind. Bands that make great product will have their fans beat a path to their digital doorway. All of the other points were relevant.How interesting of a parallel are bands and startups?

    1. Volnado

      Let me add that the only missing element here for bands is developers but with stuff like music hackdays and with the APIs that are coming online in 2011 (volnado included) bands will become fully functioning startups with this exact marketing model. Bands who have fans who are great developers will have apps and skins made by fan-velopers on different platforms which will make their music more ubiquitous

  145. Luisnavarro

    hate from everyone who makes money in marketing. Love from everyone who is in the engineering dept and does the work. much love.

  146. Arkadiy Amelin

    My friend, Fred (I’m a quick learner).I’d like to add some tricks to your list:1. Use social networking sites to set up groups by interest connected to your business activity, bubble them up and then divert all-groups members to your company’s web site.2. Post in a regular manner, exactly in case you are startup, comments on “like Fred Wilson’s” blogs.

  147. Matt A. Myers

    This is my plan:I hope to show my prototypes to Fred, and as he’s looking it over, hear him repeatedly say,”Yes… Yes! YES! YES YES YES YES YES!! OH YEesssss maaatttttt!”I hope he feels that kind of vibe and gets this excited seeing my projects. ;PAt least thinking this makes me laugh and calms my nerves a bit. 🙂

  148. Prakhar Srivastav

    Thank you Fred for the insightful article. I was unaware that so many successful startups have not spent substantial budget on market. However having a “media person” in founding team bugs me. It seems very hard to do that.

  149. John

    Fred, I once ran bus dev for a $35MM company in the managed-services space. When I goit there, they were spending $15k PER MONTH on aPR firm for all sorts of marketing help-communications, trade shows, branding, etc., because our private-equity owners thought that’s what a real company needs.This is the kind of wasteful marketing spend you are aiming at in this post. “professionals” who don’t know an industry but are expert at spending your money. Oh, and they also had a good in at the NY Post (!).I fired the PR firm and hired a smart, mid-20s marcom person who instantly improved our marketing and within a year was a true expert in our business. She cost $40k per year.So, message: in the tech space, you often get what you pay (less) for.Regards, john

    1. fredwilson

      that is exactly what i am talking about!

  150. Rgreenberg

    A Twitter post is advertising. The oldest form of advertising there is…Word of Mouth Advertising. It’s just been updated a little.

  151. Alysonrblair

    There are some parts of this post that I agree with strongly such as avoiding a PR firm until the business matures, but lumping online Texas Hold ’em with a new hotel for instance because they are both businesses is simplistic at best. And how is using free media not marketing? Marketing is still marketing even if it costs nothing but thought and time. I fear you’ll end up confusing people by creating this division between paid and free marketing. Other than the obvious, it’s all the same stuff. In order to be a more responsible source of information, perhaps you would be willing to include links to other posts both supporting and opposing your views allowing advice seekers to better decide for themselves?

  152. jcardillo

    At first, I was disappointed I was offline and missed this post yesterday, but reading the comments has been more valuable than the post itself (which I believe Fred has said was one of his main reasons for blogging anyway).As a marketer, I couldn’t agree more with this post. I am sick of companies coming to us with shitty products/services and expecting that our fees will return 10x just because. I am sick of companies who built a product that solves a problem 12 people have and expecting us to “sell it” to millions. I am sick of companies who don’t understand that, beyond your initial hunch, your customers *should* be saying something about product development.I wish more of my prospects came to me saying “We already know *what* we want to say, we just need help with these tasks: a, b, c.” Whether you call it marketing, sales, or advertising, I think that’s what Fred’s driving at.At an early-stage startup, they shouldn’t (depending on what their product/service is) have fantastic designers/developers on staff. Salary and equity should be going to people who are core creators/evangelists for the product. That still leaves room for agencies, who will have to redefine themselves for these clients as “marketing task support specialists”. The days of $15k/month retainers from small startups are over.

  153. Melissa Tran

    Revised per feedback;o) – Here’s my “take-away”.You value relationships and natural, organic, and escalating connectivity as THE key to successful start-ups.I understand your position like this – When interesting, good, smart people do interesting, good, smart things, other people notice, get excited and start to engage and promote, and the product’s exposure increases exponentially. When that dynamic kicks in, products/ideas take off and magic happens.If the product has clear, easily accessible value, and that social dynamic is in play, the game changes. At that point traditional marketing approaches aimed at “reaching the masses” will become less relevant and far less cost effective.People and businesses who try to use social media just to sell rarely succeed – most get blocked/spammed out… We’ve long been “oversold” and so most of us walk away from any unsolicited attempt to sell us something feeling like we need a shower.”Marketing is the name we use to describe the promises a company makes, the story it tells, the authentic way it delivers on that promise” By Seth’s definition, marketing is a good and important part of launching and operating a business. But that’s not the way the general public understands marketing and their perception matters.The thread I pick up in all of your posts is value; value in products and value in relationships. Start ups should BE, partner with, enlist or hire the real deal; strong people who believe a product has clear, accessible value to consumers, and are able to position themselves and the product to effectively tap in to social dynamics.In some cases a marketing company or sales person may be the perfect fit, but they are no longer the only (or in many cases the best) option.

    1. fredwilson

      first comment gets a reply. and a few suggestions about how to get yourcomments read here.1) break up the paragraphs with a space.2) less is more. people skim long comments and read short ones, and replymost to the shortest ones3) no need for any disclaimers in the AVC comments4) keep commenting

      1. Melissa Tran

        Thanks. Points taken – not sure how I lost my spaces but know I got carried away in “thinking out loud” and posted a landslide. I’ve revised the post per your feedback.My husband and I are working on an idea, and I found you by researching companies I love (Edmodo, Etsy, Twitter, Meetup, Delicious) to see who’s backed them…I was surprised and excited to see the same company again and again.Once I found my way here, I got completely jazzed by your position/focus/values/approach and SMART following. I’m hooked.I can learn here and will be sticking around! Thanks again.

        1. fredwilson


  154. Iqbal V Gandham

    HiSo I have one question:”Why does anyone bother marketing/advertising their new products”Surely CEO’s need to have their butts kicked mainstream, Fortune 500 companies need to sack all their teams, if the following works for companies who have no name, no credibility, few resources, then surely someone who has muscle like Apple/Microsoft/Google need to stop advertising iphone 4/Bing/Google search and spend their money saving the planet instead.I do not disagree with some of the points, and the semantics of advertising and marketing are left for others to dissect, but if SxSW has too much noise, then how can twitter have any less. Surely we all build great products, but sometimes you need to find the correct pool of people …and this costs sometimes.If we all rely on evangelists and early adopters to ‘like’ our products are we not then limiting the products which the masses actually get to hear about. Surely the problem with early adopters is that they are jaded, its like me, once I’ve eaten too many pizzas, no matter what you throw at me they all look a little meh!…..bk to pizza eating

  155. sean blankenship

    Love the engagement on this topic. Marketing is what you do before you make (design/build) your product. Advertising (earned or paid media) is something you do o let people know you made it.

  156. Emil

    I completely disagree that you need marketing if your product sucks. If it sucks it sucks and it will be dead sooner or later. Keeping it alive with Marketing is just like keeping someone alive on machines with terminal illness. And that’s the bad thing about marketing. Keeping bad products or companies alive longer then they should be.On first look you ask your self how is it possible that person like Fred can be so wrong. If you see the past he is wrong. If you see the future we do not know. We will see…I can understand his aversion of expencive marketing or advertising. It is like parasite on the production and exchange process. It is the cure for the inability of the market to coordinate demand and offer. With todays technology and change in behavior of the people I believe we will see much better coordination of demand and offer and the importance of marketing will decrease. Spending less on marketing will bring more to productivity and people.However today we are still addicted to Marketing and the market would die without.

  157. Saadullah Khan

    “I believe 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”I believe that is an inadequate definition, sir.Secondly, marketing means having a customer acquisition, retention and growth strategy. A startup can not ignore marketing, if anything it is what a startup should focus on.

  158. Duke Kahanamoku

    Leaving out the modern references to twitter, SEO and such this sounds like the old Regis McKenna schpiel. Marketing is dead = marketing is everything you do.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s exactly right. i should go study some regis mckenna

      1. ScottDWitt

        And Bill Davidow.His book ‘Marketing High Technology’ is another classic that deserves a periodic review.Wait a minute, he’s a VC now, isn’t he?

  159. paramendra

    432 comments? Wow. I think this is a record. This is what you get for asking the community for story ideas. The community feels a sense of ownership.

  160. Manuel Molina

    5,300 posts is a lot of storytelling, Fred. Marketing is clearly in your DNA.You and Seth rock. Cheers from Mexico.

  161. Back Eran

    HI Fred,Great post.However the term “free” is ambiguous.On one hand, I totally agree – customer acquisition in the first stage of an early-stage start-up is not wise.On the other hand, most of the things you mentioned: Social hook, entry points, events, internal PR etc. are things that actually costs nothing but you need someone “hands-on” that will lead the marketing effort inside the venture.Those things takes a lot of time, so eventually, it is free, but no one will do it voluntarily – and you are going to pay him at least a basic salary.Stealth guy from Israel.

  162. Francois Plancke

    It is one aspect of another problem: some startup think they should build a small clone of a big company and make it grow. But a nice car for the bosses don’t create any value…I agree that spending a lot of money to acquire users don’t make your product a good product and it is much better to test and make your product better and better until good is necessary before spending money to get visibility. But when your product is good, spending this poney is certainly good to let know to customers that you exist!Hence I’m tech, I’m really convinced that marketing is necessary and don’t limit to spend a lot of money on media. If your product is not good, it will lead you nowhere…

  163. John Hoskins

    Who can one hire virtually to do this work for a start up? Suggestions [email protected]

  164. rickburnes

    How do you reconcile this “marketing is bad” line with the marketing and advertising services that many of your portfolio companies are selling?

    1. fredwilson

      “when you make so much profit on every marginal customer that it would becrazy to not spend a bit of that profit acquiring more of them (coke, zynga,bud, viagra)”

  165. Rita Auta

    Interesting post. I liked the list but the premise made me cringe- marketing isn’t just for “sucky” businesses but is in fact EVERYTHING you communicate about your business to outsiders. Unless your business is a secret that is. The customer acquisition list are all marketing methods – that is a way of communicating the business to potential customers, investors, partners etc…

  166. Dalka

    Interesting point of view. I’d gladly participate in someone with enough sense to put in that line item because it shows they are thinking about the business model. Please introduce him to me.There is one problem with your post Fred.Some of the things you’ve invested in don’t actually meet the definition of the word business:An economic system in which goods and services are exchanged for one another or money, on the basis of their perceived worth. Every business requires some form of investment and a sufficient number of customers to whom its output can be sold at profit on a consistent basis. http://www.businessdictiona…Perhaps they should?

  167. Rhys Davies

    Is it true that marketing should then simply be an extended and enhanced effort to ask customers to help guide you how to make a better product? Their actually buying will then be an indication of when you have it right. Increased people coverage is then simply a signal that you are asking enough people.This was an extension of an earlier discussion “Ramping up a sales effort” in

  168. SStantondownes

    “2 legs good, 4 legs bad”? I my view, the term ‘marketing’ is merely a label for a number of methods, models, tools and techniques – and I imagine there would be alot of differing points-of-view on what was in-scope and what not. It can be used to plaster over a bad product or accelerate the adoption of a great one. It just depends. Rather than this being anti-marketing, could it not be pro-design led product thinking?

  169. Pgilbert101

    Marketing manages the intersection of the product and the market. At its highest level, it is prioritizing strategies and building a brand through consistent communication that maximizes the brands potential within its competitive landscape. If strategic planning and brand positioning are done correctly, then tactical execution should be easy and optimized. Twitter, facebook, PR etc… are all tactics. There is no doubt that many “big” company marketing plans are ineffective for early stage companies. Their problem is creating too much paper and not enough action. On the flip side, I have seen many start-ups whose messaging is all over the place as the entrepreneur has no road map but is executing in the moment. For the consumer facing start up, a marketing mindset is important and should not be over-looked or over-cooked.

  170. Chelsea Haugh

    Thank you for this article!

  171. Guest

    so what about blogging as part of the free marketing ? and posting videos to youtube. I would say uploading to youtube and blogging should also be part of free marketing

    1. fredwilson


  172. Jeff Lu

    What about startups that can make money on day 1? Did Clickable, Returnpath or Etsy not have a customer acquisition spend? No google ads?Isn’t it a no brainer to spend money on customer acquisition when you can do so profitably?

    1. fredwilson

      esty – def notclickable and return path – probably yes. they are not consumer web though.i stated very clearly in my post i was talking about consumer web.

  173. Zachary Adam Cohen

    i dont think games are the most social of all things on the web, not sure what is, but it ain’t gaming

  174. Greg Satell

    Seth’s right, you’re confusing marketing with promotion, but good points nonetheless.However, I think there’s another flaw that’s more important. You’re entrepreneur’s starting point was that “everybody needs a customer acquisition budget.” In other words, he was dictating the solution before he even attempted to frame the problem.That kind of approach will get you in trouble no matter what the domain: marketing, development, finance, whatever..- Greg

  175. Maxi

    Wow, shocked- this article is really daft!How do you want to conduct business without a marketing plan? What about considering the 4 or 7 P’s? If a business does not bring its product to the market, its not a business now is it?Agree with comment below, substitute marketing for advertising or promotion and the article makes some sense…This guy went to Harvard Business School???Wow!

    1. fredwilson

      i didn’t go to harvard business school. that probably explains why i am sodaft. i wish they would have accepted me so i could be enlightened.

  176. AirfoilPR

    It’s like your saying food isn’t necessary, do you eat? How can you say that Marketing is something a company does purely because their product or brand isn’t one of the best? Marketing builds product awareness and trust. Any large company out there today I would be willing to bet didn’t get where they are without a little marketing. You might want to rethink or look into what marketing REALLY is.

  177. Ryck

    Being late to the party, I didn’t bother to read the other 500 posted comments to your blog, Fred, so I apologize if I am redundant. I did read Seth’s comment and your reply to him, however, From my read of your post, you simply shifted marketing from being a person or an expense to activities that will be assumed by someone else in the startup who is not kknown as a marketing person. Your reply to Seth clearly identified that you offered a list of marketing activities that startups should undertake, just don’t call it marketing. This sounds like a little bit of a shell game.

  178. Greg Hickman

    Fred,I think this is a great post…I think a lot of the comments are valid as well. As a startup entrepreneur myself, I just want to try to grasp your main point after all your comments to the group…I understand the difference between marketing and advertising and how that there is clearly a debate about that displayed here.Is the real point simply that startups should not look to spend a bunch of money on acquiring users? They should look to leverage existing connections, communities, relationships and get creative with ways to spread the word in ways that are more about the teams time to execute vs spending dollars…

  179. jasoncormier

    Arnold just pointed me to this post, and with all of the thoughtful responses, I’m almost afraid to comment on one line I’ll be certain to use in future marketing pitches: “Don’t be a Google bitch.”

  180. EntrepreNoir

    You make a lot of interesting points–definitely beneficial for the head of a new startup.Is there a way for you to work with someone, though, to make your writing a bit more compelling to read? Your sentences are staccato and bland, with predictable lengths and an overly-familiar tone. I’d be hooked on your blog if I didn’t dread the writing style. Maybe this is nitpicky, but just like good marketing, you need to know your audience, create a memorable experience and keep ’em coming back for more.

    1. fredwilson

      what do you expect from an engineer who never took a writing class?

  181. awaldstein

    Thanks again for doing these posts Fred.Finally got around to collecting my thoughts on this.Marketing…this is a wake up call @

  182. Peter Beddows

    Good for you Charlie: Clearly got your priorities in focus. lol

  183. Tereza

    yeah you and me both.

  184. JLM

    Hahaha, that’s pretty damn…………………………………………………………………………funny!

  185. awaldstein

    When your developers market you to all of their customers the righteous cycle has started. That’s a perfect wave when it happens.